Muscogee Co. sheriff candidates suggest focusing more on mental health after jail suicide

Updated: Oct. 21, 2020 at 5:26 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - A suicide in the Muscogee County Jail overnight marks the sixth death inside the facility this year.

According to the coroner’s office, three of the six deaths are being investigated as suicides.

The inmate who died overnight has been identified as 45-year-old Stanley Oates. Records show Oates had been in jail for more than a year facing charges of aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and possession of a sawed off weapon.

With statistics showing half of this year’s jail deaths are suicides, we wanted to know how is mental health being treated inside the county jail.

Authorities said each inmate is asked several questions while being taken into the jail. Are you hurt, sick, injured? Have you thought about killing yourself or someone else? Deputies are asking the questions, but it’s entirely possible that inmates are not always honest.

For the third time this year, an inmate at the Muscogee County Jail has allegedly committed suicide. The two men running to be the next sheriff said enough is enough. It’s time to take a serious look at mental health.

“The rate of suicides in the jail and the attacks are absolutely alarming," Mark LaJoye said.

“The largest mental health facility in the county, technically, is at the county jail," Marshal Greg Countryman said.

LaJoye said the safety and security of inmates and jail staff is vital. He believes bringing in an outside agency could be the key in preventing another death.

LaJoye said, “it’s not that I don’t trust the jail staff but right now as you can see we have an overwhelming number of deaths inside the jail and we’ve got to do something immediately about it.”

Countryman said the sheriff’s office needs to concentrate on increasing manpower and technology within the jail. He said cameras and more deputies would allow inmates to be watched closer, to hopefully prevent another suicide from happening. If elected, Countryman said he wants to look at the reports from after these tragic incidents to find out the who, what, when, where, why.

“If we can’t answer those questions, these things will continue to happen. So, what we want to do is go in and try to interrupt these things," Countryman said.

Although their approaches may be different, both candidates agree mental health is definitely a top priority.

“If we can bring more mental health agencies into the system, it will help us do our job," LaJoye said.

“I think no matter how we look at it, mental health is paramount," Countryman said.

There is a process for suicide watch inside the jail where inmates who admit to being suicidal or are thought to be suicidal are protected, given rip proof blankets and clothing, and checked on every 15 minutes.

According to the sheriff’s office, they have asked the GBI to step in for this investigation. Both Countryman and LaJoye said they think it’s absolutely necessary.

“The GBI, their primary job is to be a finder of fact. So, wherever the facts lead them, that’s where they go," Countryman said.

“Just in a sense of transparency, an independent agency needs to come in and investigate. It just looks better all the way around, and sometimes outside investigators can pick up things that we would not pick up. Human nature we miss things," LaJoye said.

Oates' death is the fifth suicide in the last five years and the 14th death inside the jail since the start of 2016.

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