Sheriff’s officials ID woman who died in Mecklenburg jail. Investigation underway.

A 31-year-old woman has died while in custody of the Mecklenburg County Detention Center on Fourth Street in Charlotte, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Janet Parker, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, identified the woman on Thursday as Francine Laney. The State Bureau of Investigation is handling the case, Parker said.

According to jail records, Laney was arrested on multiple charges, including resisting a public officer, assault on a government official, malicious conduct by a prisoner and assault with a deadly weapon.

Francine Laney
Francine Laney

She becomes at least the fourth inmate to die at the jail since May — a period in which the Sheriff’s Office has struggled with an unprecedented number of jail vacancies brought on by the pandemic.

Investigators say Laney, who had been jailed since Jan. 30, was found “unresponsive in her cell at the detention center infirmary” at 6:20 p.m. Wednesday.

“Medical personnel began administering CPR and a nurse called 9-1-1. At approximately 6:36 p.m., Charlotte Fire Department arrived followed by MEDIC,” Sheriff’s Office officials said.

“First responders continued CPR, connected an IV and administered an automatic external defibrillator (AED). The resident was pronounced deceased at approximately 7:05 p.m.”

Details of why Laney was housed in an infirmary cell were not released.

Initial attempts to find her next of kin were “unsuccessful due to limited contact information provided by the resident during processing,” Sheriff’s Office officials said early Thursday.

She “made no phone calls nor received any legal or professional visits” since being booked into the center, officials said.

“Words cannot express the devastation of losing a resident so soon after the shooting involving one of our deputes and now the emotional trauma on staff,” Sheriff Garry McFadden said in a release.

“We are deeply saddened to report this death.”

Safety concerns at jail

There was no immediate indication that the death was connected in any way to the jail’s chronic staffing crisis.

However, a state jail inspector with the Department of Health and Human Services said in December that the vacancies posed an “imminent threat” to inmates and staff alike and recommended reducing the jail population to under 1,000 — a 30 percent cut — until staffing returned to normal.

As of Feb. 11 — the most recent date available — the vacant jail jobs stood at 159, more than a third of the overall number. As of Wednesday morning, the adult in population was 1,330, well above the recommended level.

A DHHS probe into the May suicides of inmates Karon Golightly and John Devin Haley found that the jail repeatedly violated a safety requirement that jailers physically observe each inmate at least twice every hour.

In February, an inspection report by DDHS found chronic violations of the same inmate-observation standard, which occurred while almost half the jail jobs were vacant.

The department gave McFadden until next week to submit a plan on how he intends to correct the violations, and another 30 days after that to fix them entirely.

During an appearance to discuss the February inspection report, McFadden said, the jail was safe and that the safety violations would be corrected.

Observer staff writer Kallie Cox contributed.