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Inmates' suicides prompt review

Responding to three inmate suicides this year - including two in the past two months - County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said yesterday that he has appointed a committee to review procedures at county jails.

"It appears that these incidents are unique and unusual in having occurred within a brief span of time," Smith said in a statement. "However, this is an opportunity to review procedures and policies to see if adjustments need to be made."

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Named to the committee were Jim O'Neill, administrator of the county's two jails; Sheryl Goldstein, the county's criminal justice coordinator; and representatives from the county Police Department and Bureau of Mental Health.

Smith has asked the group to make recommendations within 45 days.

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The most recent suicide occurred yesterday, when David Hahn, 33, of Hanover, Pa., was discovered by his cellmate about 9:30 a.m., hanging by a bed sheet from the bars on the window of the cell in the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson, O'Neill said. The cellmate was in an administrative office at the time of Hahn's death, O'Neill added.

Hahn left a suicide note and a letter for his mother. But O'Neill said Hahn had not displayed signs of being suicidal or having suicidal thoughts. He had no history of mental illness, and he wasn't taking medication, O'Neill said.

O'Neill said that a correctional officer was on duty in the section where Hahn was being held and that staffing does not appear to have been an issue.

O'Neill termed the frequency of the suicides "abnormal."

"I'm concerned," he said. "We'll be reviewing procedures to make sure there's nothing we've missed."

Hahn had been held in lieu of $35,000 bail at the Kenilworth Avenue jail since Monday for failing to appear in court on a theft charge, O'Neill said.

Investigators from the county Police Department's internal affairs division also will investigate Hahn's suicide, county officials said.

In July, a 23-year-old Randallstown-area woman who was awaiting trial on charges of killing her mother was found dead at the Women's Detention Center, also in Towson. And in March, a suspect in a 1976 murder hanged himself at the Kenilworth Avenue facility.

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Sommer L. Brooks was being held in protective custody when she hanged herself in July. After her death, jail administrators stopped the longtime practice of leaving posts unattended. No security officers were on the floor where Brooks was being held for about 40 minutes before her death.

Paul Brown Clark, 56, who used a wheelchair and suffered from Parkinson's disease, was being held in the medical unit of the Kenilworth Avenue jail when he killed himself in March. He apparently used a cord to the battery of his wheelchair to hang himself from the grab bar over the toilet in his cell.

County police also are investigating the death of an inmate who walked away from a work detail this week. Detectives said yesterday that they are awaiting autopsy results on Matt Vandergriff, 18, of Dundalk, who was found dead by his girlfriend in a room at the Regal Inn in the 8000 block of Pulaski Highway in Rosedale on Wednesday afternoon.

There did not appear to be any sign of foul play, said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman.

Vandergriff walked away from a work detail at the Texas landfill off York Road on Tuesday and jumped into a van. He had been at the jail since May serving a six-month sentence for assault and resisting arrest.


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