Report: Rules broken in Durham jail before teen's suicide
Posted July 7
Durham, N.C. — Officers in the Durham County jail didn't follow procedures for checking on inmates in the hours before an inmate committed suicide in March, according to a state review.
Uniece Glenae Fennell, 17, was found unresponsive, hanging from a bed sheet attached to a cell window, early on March 23.
Regulations call for officers to make rounds at least twice an hour, observing each inmate at irregular intervals, but after reviewing jail records and interviewing staffers, the state Division of Health Service Regulation determined that officers didn't meet that standard for 11 of the 24 hours before Fennell was found hanged.
No rounds were documented during the 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. hours of March 22; only one round was recorded during the 11 a.m., noon, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. hours that day; and incomplete rounds were recorded during the 5 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. hours, according to a state report. Another incomplete round was recorded at 5 a.m. March 23, a couple hours after Fennell was found, the report states.
State officials also learned that another inmate told officers that Fennell had talked about hurting herself, but officers didn't pass that information along to a supervisor or jail medical staff, the report states. Inmates who display such behavior are supposed to be observed four times an hour, and records show that Fennell wasn't even checked three times in the hour before she was found hanged, according to the report.
Officials from the Durham County Sheriff's Office, which oversees the jail, said previously that Fennell wasn't under suicide observation prior to her death.
The state report states that Fennell was always seen standing by her cell door, and the last time she was checked, she told the officer she was OK.
"We’re working hard to ensure that nothing like this happens again," jail administrator Col. Anthony Prignano said in a statement to WRAL News.
Prignano acknowledged that his officers didn't follow state regulations of twice-hourly cell checks, and disciplinary action has been taken. No one was fired, suspended or demoted, but he declined to provide other details.
The jail has already started supervisors with access to electronic records of cell checks, he said. That will give them real-time information so they can respond more quickly when checks aren't being done as required and to find out if there is any legitimate reason for that, such as officers responding to a fight or a medical emergency.
Also, all threats of self-harm by inmates are now referred immediately to the jail's mental health staff, he said.
Fennell was put in the jail on July 26, 2016, after she was 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.
The day before she was found hanged, her attorney sent an email to the sheriff's office saying a detention officer had verbally abused her. Authorities said they looked into the complaint and found that the officer had resigned two weeks before.