Bradley County inmate's death is 3rd of the year at the jail

A man found hanging in his cell in the Bradley County Jail on Sunday became the third inmate this year to die in custody there.

Ralph Nelms, 41, of Cleveland, was arraigned Thursday in a string of burglaries, including a body shop on Dawn Drive and several campers at a Spring Place Road business, the Bradley County Sheriff's Office said. He also had an appearance set in Criminal Court this month on other charges, according to sheriff's office spokesman James E. Bradford Jr.

On Sunday, correctional officers found his body, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The state agency was asked into the case by 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Crump, routine for in-custody deaths.

Two sources told the Times Free Press that Nelms was being held in the booking area of the overcrowded jail, an area where corrections officers can see into the fronts of all the cells. The sources said booking was shut down for some time and at least one person brought to the jail couldn't be admitted.

Bradford said there was a "brief delay" in booking because of the death and that it's likely anyone being brought to the jail would have been held in the sally port temporarily.

TBI communications director Susan Niland said she couldn't discuss the investigation.

Earlier this year, one inmate died after a fight, and another from a medical condition.

Billy Joe Rodgers was in jail on a charge of failing to appear in court on felony charges. He was accused of allowing his dogs to run loose and maul a woman in May 2015.

Rogers got in a fight with another inmate on April 28 and was found unresponsive by jail personnel. He died May 1 at Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga.

On March 14, inmate Hershal C. Dover, 53, vomited, collapsed and stopped breathing at the booking station after two days in the jail. He was taken to a local hospital, where he died.

The TBI looked into both deaths. Asked if the investigation resulted in charges, Niland said she would have to check today when the office was open.