Attorney: Durham teen who committed suicide in jail complained of verbal abuse by detention officers
Posted March 24
Durham, N.C. — Just one day before her apparent suicide, a 17-year-old Durham inmate complained of verbal abuse by detention officers, according to her attorney.
Detectives with the Durham sheriff's office were dispatched to the detention facility around 3:30 a.m. Thursday when detainee Uniece Glenae Fennell was found unresponsive, hanging from a bed sheet attached to a cell window. Paramedics who responded pronounced her dead at the scene.
Fennell was put in the facility on July 26, 2016 after she was arrested and charged with the murder of a 19-year-old Durham man. She was also indicted on Aug. 4, 2016, for discharging a weapon into an occupied residence and discharging a firearm with a pattern of street gang activity.
Posts on Fennell's Facebook page showed that she maintained her innocence, saying she had nothing to do with the murder.
Not even 24 hours before Fennell was found dead, her attorney sent an email to the sheriff's office saying a detention officer verbally abused his client.
According to the sheriff's office, when Fennell's attorney complained that his client had been verbally abused authorities started looking into it and found that the officer had resigned two weeks prior to the complaint.
Activists say this is a claim they hear often.
"We hear it very frequently. It's one of the more common things we actually get complaints about - that there is a general culture from guards of disrespect toward inmates," said David Theurer, of Durham's self-proclaimed "Jail Investigation Team."
The team is made up of people who have concerns about conditions in the jail.
Fennell's attorney has called for an independent investigation into his client's death. The activists agree that it is the only way to make sure it's fair.
"We feel that it is extremely necessary," said Theurer. "We feel that it's the only way we'll see any real understanding of what happened inside that can be trusted. Frankly, I don't think we can trust the sheriff's department to give us the truth."
Officials from the Durham County Sheriff's Office said Fennell was not under suicide observation prior to her death.
The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating Fennell's death. The State Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy.