Officials investigating whether jail officers did required checks before teen died

Investigators looking into the death of a teenager at a Mecklenburg County jail will likely seek to answer this question, among others:

Did jail officers do the required checks on the 17-year-old inmate?

Under North Carolina rules, officers in county jails are required to check on each inmate at least twice an hour. It’s unclear whether that happened in the case of the youth who died Saturday at Mecklenburg Jail North.

State and local officials say the teenager — who was identified only as Desmond W. from Rockingham County — apparently committed suicide. The youth hanged himself with a sheet, according to Rodney Collins, chief deputy with the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office.

Collins said that because the victim was a juvenile, he could not disclose what crimes he had been charged with.

Collins said a jail detention officer discovered the teenager unresponsive in his cell at around 1:50 p.m. Saturday. Jail medical staffers and first-responders performed CPR but were unable to revive him. The Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office said there were no signs of foul play.

It’s unclear how long he’d been dead. He was alive shortly before noon, when officers provided him lunch, Collins said. The chief deputy said he doesn’t know when detention officers last checked on the teenager because those records have been turned over to the NC State Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the death.

But it probably wouldn’t have taken long for the youth to commit suicide, Collins said. “The amount of time it would take to perform such an act would be just minutes,” he said.

The Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office and the state Department of Health and Human Services are also investigating. Collins said sheriff’s officials will look at the results of the investigations to determine whether any changes in operation are needed at the jail.

The teenage victim had been admitted to the county jail on Friday, officials said. He had been in the custody of the state Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice.

In North Carolina, youths are placed in juvenile detention facilities based on a variety of factors — including safety, overcrowding and the ability to keep social distance. For Desmond W., Mecklenburg’s Jail North was the closest facility to meet those criteria, a state Department of Public Safety spokesman said.

Collins said that he examined 15 years worth of records and found no other cases in which juveniles in the Mecklenburg jails committed suicide.

Adult inmates have taken their own lives, though. In 2018, three Mecklenburg county jail inmates committed suicide, and the family of one victim — Jerome Thompson — has filed a lawsuit alleging that the sheriff’s office and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department failed to take steps to keep him safe.

Mecklenburg’s current sheriff, Garry McFadden, took office in December 2018. Collins, who serves as McFadden’s chief deputy, said jail staffers work hard to prevent deaths.

“We take the care of our residents very seriously,” he said. “Everything we do is geared toward keeping people safe.”

“It’s a very difficult situation,” Collins said. “ ... We really feel for the family and the ones closest to him.”