Local News

Attorney: Durham teen who committed suicide in jail complained of verbal abuse by detention officers

Posted March 24

— 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.


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  • Leslie Chabot Mar 25, 11:06 a.m.
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    Awwww......did the big mean law enforcement not talk nice to the sweet little murderer? Who knew gang members were so sensitive.

  • Mike Morin Mar 25, 10:45 a.m.
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    Another greedy lawyer looking for a quick payoff for society's "takers". Same old pathetic story.

  • Nancy Oberman Mar 25, 10:09 a.m.
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    GREEDY family seeking money; greedy attorney wants his cut. Greedy news media trying to stir the pot, so they can get more readers, ergo, more hits on their advertisements, making more money... kid is dead, after leading a violent, short life...vicious cycle continues...

  • Dean Morron Mar 25, 4:50 a.m.
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    And once again, our bleeding heart society wants to place the blame on a 3rd party instead of addressing the real issue.

    As an individual we are in control of our own destiny so I wish people would blame themselves instead of trying to place the blame on others.
    I'm sure this attorney is looking for " compensation " for this poor girl's family ... of which , they deserve nothing !!!!

  • Janet Ghumri Mar 24, 6:51 p.m.
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    Respect is a two way street.

    I have difficulty believing that the guards verbally abuse inmates for no reason. It's not an environment that is intended to be comfortable or sensitive to the delicate constitutions of the 'guests'.
    It's jail. It's not supposed to be an enjoyable experience

    Even her final act, She chose to die, instead of using her time as a learning experience. Very sad.

  • Jeff Freuler Mar 24, 5:28 p.m.
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    Oh give me a break. Known gang member since the age of 13 is complaining about verbal abuse. Go cry a river somewhere else