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Cover Story

Why have jail suicides soared under Sheriff Ortiz's watch?

Photo: Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

Chuck Kerr

Photo: , License: N/A

Inmates that have taken their lives at the jail under Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz's watch: Robert Rodriguez (above), Adrian Rodriguez (below)

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Hayes wrote that inmates give off certain signs that could foretell a possible suicide, even if they don't come out and say it. They may even deny being suicidal. He recommended a daily mental health shift report be distributed to all the appropriate detention, medical, and mental health personnel within the jail — another recommendation that hasn't yet been followed.

Just after Hayes' report, a guard on rounds found Nicholas William Tucker, 22, hanging from a bed sheet inside his cell just after 11 p.m. on May 28, 2010. He'd been arrested two days earlier on assault charges related to a fight he'd had with his girlfriend, according to his family. Tucker told intake officers he was going through heroin and methadone withdrawal, and that it had been hours since he last used, a lawsuit his family filed against the county states. Tucker also "verbalized suicidal ideation," the suit says. Despite jail records noting Tucker's well-established history of depression and drug addition, guards took no special precautions.

The morning after Tucker's suicide, one inmate in Tucker's unit approached a detention officer, saying he heard Tucker arguing on the phone in the unit's dayroom, just before dinner, according to jail records recently released to the Current. Tucker threatened to kill himself if he couldn't get out of lockup, the inmate said.

Though the officer noted in his report someone would conduct a follow-up interview with the inmate about what he heard, there's no indication from documents provided to the Current that the interview ever took place.

Tucker's family declined to comment on the suicide or the lawsuit.

Then on November 28, 2010, a deputy making rounds found Mark Montoya, 22, kneeling next to his bunk. When he got closer, the officer saw a sheet tied around his neck, the other end secured between the upper bunk and the wall. Montoya had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child, sentenced to 8 years in prison, just a week before.

In the days leading up to his suicide, an officer's report notes, Montoya had made numerous comments to other inmates "that he would rather die" than to go to prison "because he was afraid of what other inmates might do to him."

It was other inmates that found Anthony Tootle, 43, hanging from a towel inside his cell on January 22, 2011. Before detention staff could get to him, other inmates in Tootle's unit had carried him out of his cell on a mattress. One inmate had already started CPR on Tootle before guards took over.

It's unclear why Tootle took his life — his family couldn't be reached for comment. Officers note in the report that at no point did Tootle ask to be seen by medical or mental health staff. Guards wrote he hadn't displayed any bizarre behavior and wasn't flagged for suicide watch.

Officials said neither mental health screenings at the City Magistrate nor the jail indicated Adrian Rodriguez, 31, was suicidal, though records say he was put in detox upon intake. Still, two days after his arrest on robbery charges on June 21, 2011, Rodriguez hung himself with a sheet in his cell. Transferred to University Hospital, he died three days later. While in the hospital, Rodriguez was given a personal recognizance bond. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which tracks in-custody deaths, ruled the death wasn't officially "in-custody," meaning it doesn't show up in the agency's records.

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