Local News

Could Drew Planten's Suicide Have Been Prevented?

Posted January 4, 2006 12:30 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2006 8:08 a.m. EST

— Drew Planten's grieving mother told WRAL Tuesday that she blames Raleigh's Central Prison for her son's suicide and said the facility did not do enough to prevent his death.

According to Planten's attorney, Kirk Osborn, a preliminary autopsy report found that Planten -- a suspect in the May 2002 death of Stephanie Bennett and the October 1999 shooting death of Rebecca Huismann, of Lansing, Mich. -- hanged himself with the hem of a bed sheet and may have put a plastic bag over his head.

Sarah Chandler, Planten's mother and also an attorney in Michigan, said she would investigate and possibly sue Central Prison if she finds it was grossly negligent.

Recalling a conversation she had with Planten just before Christmas, Chandler said some of his comments left her so worried about his well-being that she shared them with his defense attorney.

"The last time I visited with (Drew), he was very depressed," Chandler said. "I don't want to say what he said, but it sounds like he lost hope of ever getting out of there."

Authorities said Planten was transferred to Central Prison from the Wake County Jail while he awaited trial because initially after his arrest, he refused to eat or cooperate with jailers. Central was better equipped to safely accommodate him.

Chandler said Planten was in an area at Central Prison where staff members should have been mindful of his demeanor and mood.

"I'm very concerned because they were supposed to keep him safe until trial -- and that was what they were supposed to do -- and I don't know if they tried very hard," she said.

Osborn said he did not think his client was suicidal, however, he believed Planten was under careful watch and in a mental health wing at Central Prison, under 24-hour supervision inside his cell. Looking back, he said he should have paid more attention to his client's mental state.

"I'm quite curious as to how he got a hold of a plastic bag," Ogborn said.

In recent weeks, prison officials said Planten had been responsive and cooperative and was reassigned to regular housing within the prison, where, according to Department of Correction spokesman Keith Acree, Planten spent 23 hours a day in his cell and was being checked on every 30 minutes.

"Drew Planten had been on suicide precautions. He came off them on Oct. 30," Acree said. "That happened after careful observation by a mental health team, and after approval of the managing psychiatrist. Planten had not shown any signs that he intended to harm himself."

Acree wouldn't elaborate on the exact supervision plan that Planten was under, but it was during one of those 30-minute checks that a prison officer found the 35-year-old unresponsive.

Dr. Michael Teague, a forensic psychologist with the Raleigh Police Department, however, believes Planten's death was planned from the moment of his arrest.

"I think he realized everything was going to come out and that was going to be bad for him and bad for his family," Teague said. "He decided right then to commit suicide."

As for Chandler, she said that even after his suicide, she could not believe that her son killed either Bennett or Huismann.

"I do, and maybe that's what drove him to this," she said. "I don't know."