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Disabled man who died in Baltimore jail overdosed on morphine and fentanyl; advocates ask why he was there

The 31-year-old father who died at a Baltimore jail in June while being held on a traffic violation died of morphine and fentanyl intoxication, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Wednesday.

Deniro Bellamy of Randallstown was found collapsed June 6 around 9 p.m. in a holding cell with other inmates at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is nearing the conclusion of its internal probe into Bellamy’s death, spokesman Gerard Shields said.

“While the investigation is not finalized, they have found no evidence of negligence,” Shields said in an email.

Bellamy’s brother, Zeke Bellamy, said his brother had a mental disability and had turned himself in after missing a court date for driving without a license and having a warrant issued for his arrest.

He said his brother did not use recreational drugs, but that he always wanted to fit in and might have been pressured into using drugs by other people being held at the jail. Zeke said his brother “had a mentality of about a 15-year-old” and needed to be looked after.

“The drugs, that wasn’t him,” Zeke said in an interview Wednesday. “If five guys out of six guys in the cell are doing drugs, and he’s that sixth guy, he would probably do it, but he wouldn’t do it on his own.”

“That is not his character,” he continued. “For him to take [drugs] on his own outside the jail, that’s not what he does — did.”

He said an official at the medical examiner’s office told him there were “a lot of drugs” in his brother’s system and that if Bellamy had taken them before he was in jail, “he would have died before he got that far.”

Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the medical examiner’s office, said he could not release information beyond the cause and manner of death, and could not say how much of the drugs were in Bellamy’s system other than to say that the amount was fatal.

The manner of death is listed as undetermined, a common ruling in Maryland for drug overdoses. The case was closed Friday.

Shields has said correctional officers attempted to perform CPR on Bellamy before he was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital and pronounced dead.

William Perry, 24, of Baltimore’s Parkside neighborhood, was being held at the detention center the same day and told The Baltimore Sun during interviews in June and July that Bellamy appeared healthy and relaxed when he first got to the jail.

“When I saw him, he was good,” Perry said. “He was sitting in the holding cell hanging out with other people. [He was] cool, calm, relaxed, talking and all that.”

Less than an hour later, Perry was in another room waiting to get his fingerprints taken when he heard someone in the holding cell say a man “is blue and dying” and heard others calling for a medic.

Elizabeth Alexander, a lawyer and former director of the ACLU National Prison Project, said the initial booking and intake area at the Baltimore jail “is just about the worst place for anyone in the whole place.”

”A very large percentage of people who are booked come in with a drug problem,” she said. “I have never seen a criminal justice system in which people came in and it’s just expected that huge numbers of people will be on drugs when they enter.”

Alexander, who has partnered with the ACLU to require better medical care for people held at the jail, said the cells are “very poorly supervised” and that it might be difficult to get a staff member’s attention if someone were suffering from a medical condition.

Shields said he had no response to Perry's account and said more information would likely be available when the Intelligence Investigative Division completes its investigation.

Call logs to 911 indicate that two calls were made six minutes apart to report a patient who was not breathing at the jail, the first at 9:13 p.m. and the second at 9:19.

Perry said he saw jail employees roll Bellamy’s body out on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face. “His fingers were blue,” Perry said.

“They put the people that is dangerous to society and the people who is not dangerous to society in the same cell together,” he said.

Bernice Mitchell, 53, died at central booking Dec. 4, 2016, after what another person being held at the jail described as hours of deteriorating health.

Tina Poniatowski told The Sun that month that Mitchell appeared heavily intoxicated and was able to continue ingesting what Poniatowski believed were illicit drugs from a small paper packet while in jail. She later slumped over a bench and died.

Tara Huffman, director of the criminal and juvenile justice program at the Open Society Institute in Baltimore, said neither Mitchell nor Bellamy should have been kept at the jail in the first place.

“It should be the criminal justice system’s response to divert people away from it as quickly as possible, because it’s simply not equipped to deal with a Mr. Bellamy,” she said.

Zeke Bellamy, who owns a small trucking company, said his brother loved to be outside and played baseball, basketball and football. He had attended high school at St. Elizabeth School, a special needs school in Baltimore.

Zeke said he spoke to his brother just a few days before his death, discussing plans for Deniro to come over to Zeke’s house for a barbecue. Deniro planned to bring his 8-month-old son.

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