Inmate hangs herself in medical unit of jail
An Allegheny County Jail inmate undergoing treatment in the facility’s medical unit for a knee abscess hanged herself in her cell early Tuesday, marking the second time in nine days that an inmate has died at the lockup.
The death of Jamie Gettings-prompted yet another investigation at the jail by the Allegheny County Police, who were already busy probing the April 10 death of inmate David Black.
Ms. Gettings, 33, of West Mifflin, was found hanging in a cell and was pronounced dead at 2:27 a.m., Warden Orlando Harper said in a statement.
“This is not acceptable. That shouldn’t happen,” Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman, the head of the Jail Oversight Board, said Tuesday night.
Judge Cashman added, however, that he was told by the warden that Ms. Gettings had not exhibited any suicidal tendencies, so corrections officers were not primed to suspect that she might try to kill herself.
Judge Cashman said he understood Ms. Gettings was in a solitary cell while her knee was being treated. She had been in custody on and off since Jan. 21. On April 9, she went to Allegheny General Hospital for her knee and returned to the jail Thursday, Judge Cashman said.
“Based upon what I know, with the information given to me from the jail, there’s nothing to indicate that she’s a suicide risk. She was there because of a medical problem. If she decided that she’s going to do this, so be it. The people went and did their rounds, they checked on the inmates that were in there, and that’s when they found her. It’s not that they were checking to make sure somebody wasn’t going to hang themselves,”
Judge Cashman said.
“When you consider that you’ve got 2,200 people in that jail, that’s a lot of people to go look at at any given point in time,” the judge said, “and if you have no suspicions that this person is a problem, it’s not as though you’re going to double [your checks].”
Judge Cashman said he was “pretty sure” corrections officers checked on Ms. Gettings and other inmates in her pod every two hours. That could not be confirmed Tuesday night.
“They walk the route, they check the cells,” Judge Cashman said, referring to corrections officers. “If they perceive a problem, they call the medical people.”
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office, which has not ruled on the cause and manner of Ms. Gettings’ death, said she was found at 2:12 a.m.
“Medical responded to render medical assistance, however she passed away,” the warden said in a statement. Judge Cashman said he did not know what time Ms. Gettings was last seen alive during the guards’ rounds. He also said he did not know what she used to hang herself.
The fact that Ms. Gettings died while under medical supervision provoked a strong reaction from Chelsa Wagner, the county controller and another Jail Oversight Board member.
“That strikes me as particularly concerning,” Ms. Wagner said.
“When they put people there, they are supposed to be supervised,” said Brad Korinski, Ms. Wagner’s chief legal counsel.
Dan Laurent, spokesman for Allegheny Health Network, which oversees medical care at the jail, said his organization was cooperating with the investigation. He declined to address specific questions about staffing on the medical unit.
“We’re working with the county officials to assess the circumstances surrounding the death,” Mr. Laurent said.
“We’re cooperating with the investigation that’s underway, and at this point I can’t speak to any of those details.”
Ms. Gettings first entered the jail this year on Jan. 21 after being arrested in Mount Oliver. She was a passenger in a car that was pulled over during a traffic stop, tried to shove a crack pipe down her pants and resisted officers’ attempts to arrest her, according to a police affidavit. Police found a crack pipe, several empty stamp bags and syringes in her purse, the affidavit said. She pleaded guilty to a summary charge of disorderly conduct.
At that point, Ms. Gettings was on probation for a 2013 case in which she pleaded guilty to a drug charge and endangering the welfare of children. On Feb. 16 she was sent to a residential facility in Oakland but walked out nine days later without permission, leading to an escape charge, an affidavit said.
She was returned to the jail early this month.
In the other inmate death, Mr. Black, 53, appeared to be “in medical distress” while in the jail’s intake department, according to the warden.
Jail staff rendered medical aid, but Mr. Black died at 5:21 a.m. April 10 after entering the jail at 6:45 p.m the day before.
There has been no ruling yet on Mr. Black’s cause and manner of death.
But Judge Cashman said the warden told him that indications pointed to a presumed heart attack.
“The first one was a heart attack, and that person died as a result of some type of stress unrelated to anything going on at the jail. It was a natural cause of death. I may be wrong about that, but that’s the information that was given to me,” Judge Cashman said. “That was the indication I got from the warden.”