Police say Bloomington woman supplied fentanyl that killed Orange County Jail cellmate

On the night of Dec. 29, sheriff's deputy Brandon Johnson arrived at the Orange County Jail with a 30-year-old woman he’d arrested on a charge of driving under the influence of controlled substances.

After noting erratic driving, he pulled over a 2014 gray Nissan on County Road 700 near Orleans about 7:15 p.m. A portable alcohol breath test indicated the driver hadn’t been drinking, but she was unsteady on her feet, slurring words and her pupils, the officer noticed, were tiny as pinpoints.

The Bloomington woman consented to toxicology testing. At the local hospital, cocaine, benzodiazepine and methadone were detected in her urine. The deputy informed her of the results and took her to jail.

When she got there, jailers did a pat-down search and stowed away the woman’s street clothes and belongings. Dressed in a jail uniform, she joined three other women in a holding cell for the night.

Less than two hours later, one of those cellmates would be dead from a fentanyl overdose.

Police say it was Sarah Jean Shipman, the Bloomington woman arrested for OWI that night, who supplied the lethal drug that caused 54-year-old Jeanne Ross to die.

Deadly meeting in an Orange County jail cell

The women were strangers until that night when a shared addiction changed everything.

Ross had a history of drug-related charges. The Mooresville woman was transferred to the jail from the detention center in Hendricks County Jail on Dec. 26, four days before she died.

She had been arrested on a warrant for failure to appear at an Orange County court hearing on charges of possession of methamphetamine and marijuana filed in February 2022. She was being held in lieu of bond for a Jan. 17 hearing in Orange County Superior Court.

The charges have been dismissed.

Shipman is jailed on a half-million-dollar bond, charged with dealing in a controlled substance resulting in death, dealing a controlled substance in a penal facility and trafficking with an inmate. She's pleaded not guilty, was appointed a public defender and will have a bail review hearing Feb. 26.

Court records document police investigation

A review of police accounts, medical reports and other court documents filed in the case outline the series of events an Indiana State Police investigation concluded led to Ross's death.

When Deputy Johnson saw a locked safe inside the Nissan after he made the traffic stop, he asked Shipman about it. She said it contained her doctor-prescribed methadone. She opened the safe and the officer determined the bottles of liquid medicine were all that was in the safe.

“I then asked Sarah if she had anything illegal on her person, to which she claimed no,” his report said. She turned her pockets inside out and the only thing found was her cell phone.

Upon arrival at the jail, Shipman “appeared compliant and pleasant,” a report from the jail said. “Aside from the underlying charge, there were no indicators that Shipman was hiding anything.” The jail officer conducted a “basic pat down and search,” the report said. “No strip search was conducted.”

After Ross was found dead, Sheriff David Henderson and jail staff reviewed what had happened and developed suspicions about Shipman, who initially said she and Ross had “very little conversation and then went to bed” after she was put into the cell.

When they tried to interview one of the women in the cell, who had been in the jail since Dec. 23, they found her incoherent. She was taken by ambulance to IU Health Paoli Hospital.

“It was at that time we thought someone might have brought drugs into the jail holding cell … we are having overdoses,” a report from the jail said. A jailer reviewed Shipman’s charged and saw she had tested positive for cocaine, benzodiazepine and methadone at the hospital before being booked into jail.

A female jail officer then took Shipman into a private area, where she was strip searched. "It was at that time Jail Officer Guthrie located a plastic bag with an unknown substance in the vaginal canal of Sarah,” the report said. Tests indicated the powder in the bag was fentanyl-laced heroin and seven blue tablets in the bag were oxycodone pills.

The sheriff soon learned that the woman transported to the hospital had heroin and the opioid fentanyl in her system. On Jan. 21, Owen County Coroner Benjamin Farris received toxicology reports confirming Ross had died from a fentanyl overdose.

When an state police detective interviewed Shipman a second time, after watching video footage from a camera inside the holding cell, she reportedly fessed up. She admitted smuggling the drugs into the jail but said she didn’t provide anything to Ross. She said she had given the woman taken to the hospital an oxycodone pill when she asked for one.

The ISP report said Shipman had six or seven oxycodone pills and some heroin in a plastic bag inside her underwear when she came into the jail. “She stated when she dressed out of her street clothes, she put the drugs inside her front pocket on her jail uniform.”

She told the detective she had purchased the drugs from a man at Bloomington’s Crawford Apartments, which provides housing for people experiencing homelessness or who cannot secure housing because of criminal records.

Fentanyl at Crawford: Bloomington man charged with providing drug that killed 39-year-old woman

The ISP detective who investigated Ross’s death wrote the following in his report, summing up the video evidence.

“Sarah is given a green pad to sleep on and it's placed next to Jeanne on the ground of the holding cell. It appears Jeanne and Sarah have some sort of conversation. There is no audio in the holding cell. At approximately 9:55 p.m. you can see in the video Sarah reaching into her jumpsuit pants and appears to be digging or looking for something in her private area. At approximately 9:57 you can see Sarah pull out what she is digging for in her pants.

“At approximately 9:58 you can see Sarah's arm go over to Jeanne as if she is handing her something. Sarah's arm goes to Jeanne several times as if she is handing her something, or they are both snorting something together. Both girls are still laying down after this happens."

Forty minutes later, "you can see Jeanne start having seizures in the holding cell. It is believed by the coroner that Jeanne died about this time.”

Contact H-T reporter Laura Lane at llane@heraldt.com or 812-318-5967.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: ISP report: Bloomington woman supplied fentanyl that killed cellmate