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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / A vigil was held outside the Bradley County Jail on July 26 for Joseph Dewhurst, who died in custody on July 22. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into the death.

The preliminary results of an autopsy conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on a Bradley County Jail inmate show suicide as the cause of death, according to a news release from the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.

Federal inmate Joseph Dewhurst, 36, was found unresponsive in his cell on July 22 and his body was sent for an autopsy by request of the TBI. It appeared he had used his bed linens and bed rail to voluntarily end his life by hanging.

After Lawson requested the TBI investigation into Dewhurst's death, TBI agents worked the scene inside the cell area, conducted interviews and collected documentation. Among the evidence gathered from his cell was a four page letter written by inmate Dewhurst, stating his end of life intentions, the release states.

"It breaks my heart when one of our inmates decides to end his or her life," Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson said in the release. "We do everything that we can to improve our inmates' quality of life while incarcerated...but sometimes, the enemy of depression and suicidal thoughts speaks louder to the inmate than we can; even when we do everything we can to combat it. It is my hope that any of our inmates who might be struggling with these thoughts will visit our jail's mental health therapist and get the help that he or she needs so that something like this does not happen again." 

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Family, friends remember man who died in custody

Lawson also mentioned several resources and options the jail staff provides in order to look out for the well-being of inmates, such as "well-rounded" meals, education opportunities, chances to shorten sentences by the rewarding of good behavior, video visitation and phone time with friends and families, access to an "excellent" medical staff and a full time mental health therapist. 

"From what I have seen, every one of my corrections officers did everything right," Lawson said in the release. "I commend my corrections staff for making timely cell checks and documenting in a manner of truthfulness, which is a testament to their commitment to the job and to the inmates. I also want to thank the jail's medical staff for all they have done in the wake of this situation." 

Dozens of people gathered in the parking lot of the Bradley County Jail on July 26 to honor Dewhurst's life. 

Michele Rogers, Dewhurst's older sister, said her brother was someone who brought joy into the world.

"He was full of light and life and love," she said. "And everyone who knew him would know that."

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