The 23-year-old man who hanged himself in the Hamilton County Jail on Saturday was being held in isolation for his own protection and had only just been moved to his isolation cell from the jail's first floor, where inmates with mental health issues are housed.
Justin Bradley had been in his new cell for less than 24 hours when he used a bed sheet to hang himself early Saturday morning, sheriff's office spokeswoman Janice Atkinson said. When jail staff found him, he was not breathing and was unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at Erlanger hospital around 1:15 a.m.
Bradley was accused of beating his girlfriend's 3-year-old son, Dakota Arndt, to death on Aug. 27. He was arrested on Aug. 30 and held without bond. Jail staff initially housed Bradley on the first floor so that the jail's team of mental health specialists could evaluate him.
However, he was not on a suicide watch and never made any verbal threat to harm himself, Atkinson said.
"They were just monitoring him because of what he was charged with," she said. "They were just being extra careful with him."
There was a delay after the jail's mental health team cleared Bradley to move off the first floor and when he actually did leave that floor because jail staff were looking for a safe place to house him, Atkinson added.
Sheriff Jim Hammond said it's not unusual to put an inmate in isolation when the charges involve a child.
"[Isolation] was for his own protection," Hammond said. "Generally this type of charge ramps up abuse from other prisoners when a young child was involved."
Inmates in isolation are kept out of the general population of inmates but are given recreation time outside of their cells, Hammond said.
"Isolation doesn't mean he was in a hole somewhere where he couldn't see or hear other inmates," he said.
In his new cell, jailers should have checked on Bradley every 30 or 40 minutes. Inmates on suicide watch are checked every 15 minutes, and an inmate can kill himself in three to five minutes, Hammond said.
The jail houses about 520 inmates and maintains a total staff of 120 correctional officers across all shifts, he added.
"In a facility this large, you get a lot of attempted suicides," Hammond said. "There's no way to protect every person from attempting to take their own life."
The jail does not track how many inmates are on suicide watch on a weekly or monthly basis, Atkinson said. Inmates can be placed on suicide watch for a number of reasons, including making self-harming statements or acting in a way that alerts an officer that they could be at risk.
Bradley's body will be released to his family when the medical examiner's office finishes its report.
When Bradley was arrested, he initially told police that Dakota had accidentally drowned in a bathtub. But medical reports show Dakota had multiple severe injuries to his skull and a dislocated shoulder.
Other documents show that Dakota was taken to a local hospital in June with injuries doctors called "possible child abuse."
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services confirmed that its workers had been involved in at least one investigation regarding Dakota.
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