Chattanooga: Inmate watched suicide in jail cell

Chattanooga: Inmate watched suicide in jail cell

May 10th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

An inmate at Hamilton County Jail used a ripped "suicide proof" blanket to hang himself last week while his cellmate with a mental disorder watched, a Hamilton County Medical Examiner's report released Monday states.

Jason Matthew Logan, 30, who was booked on burglary and driving-related charges last Tuesday, had a history of depression and drug addiction and had been placed on suicide watch at the jail.

Jail employees found him hanging in a cell on Thursday.

His suicide was the second at the jail in seven months, records show.

Logan had told Hamilton County Jail personnel he was depressed and contemplated killing himself, his mother, Suzanne Logan, said in a previous interview.

A cellmate watched Logan hang himself from the 8-foot mesh ceiling with a portion of the ripped blanket. However, the cellmate could not call guards because he has a mental disorder that prevents him from communicating in any meaningful way, according to the report.

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Corrections Capt. John Swope said he could not comment on Logan's case pending the outcome of an investigation.

However, he did say that inmates on suicide watch sometimes are placed in a cell with another inmate. When an inmate is evaluated by the crisis response team, a determination is made about their needs, which can range from a deputy constantly watching them to deputies checking the cell every 30 minutes. Sometimes the evaluation results in requesting admittance to a mental health facility.

He declined to state what determination was made in Logan's case.

The jail purchases the "suicide proof" blankets and garments from a North Carolina-based company, Bob Barker Co.

The blankets are priced at $90.75 and are marketed with the slogan, "For peace of mind, protection and compassionate care," according to the company's website.

The description also states the blankets are sturdy - using polyester fabrics, "lockstitch quilted to polyester inner batting" with nylon bonded thread for the stitching.

"Virtually impossible to tear. Can't be easily disassembled. Can't be easily twisted into knots or nooses," the product description states. Officials from Bob Barker Co. did not return a phone call seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Swope said the blankets are disposed of by jail staff if they notice wear and tear on the material.

"In most cases, they stand up," Swope noted, before also adding, "There's nothing that's indestructible."

Family members buried Logan Monday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

In a previous interview, Suzanne Logan stated she was looking for answers. She said her son fought addiction and depression for years.

"It was just a struggle for him," she said.

The last suicide at the jail occurred in October 2010 when an inmate hanged himself with a bed sheet.

Swope said the most recent death speaks to a larger issue of the jail dealing with more and more mental health issues with inmates.

About 15 years ago, the crisis response team, which was a fairly new concept, would respond to the jail sporadically to make mental health evaluations for inmates. Now, the team must respond about two to three times a day, Swope said.

"The problem we have is a lack of treatment opportunities for people with mental health issues. ... Mental illness is very prevalent at our jail and other jails, if it keeps going like it's going now, we will see an increase of people on suicide watch or who have different levels of mental illness," Swope said.

"We have the task of handling it the best we can with limited resources."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6406.