RALEIGH COUNTY, WV (WVNS) — A 30-year-old Mercer County man died of an apparent self-inflicted injury while incarcerated at Southern Regional Jail, according to West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials.
The death is at least the second at Southern Regional Jail this year, following the death of another incarcerated person in March.
Last year, West Virginia Department of Homeland Security data shows, at least 13 inmates died at the jail.
Andy Malinoski, director of the West Virginia Department of Commerce Office of Marketing and Communications and a spokesperson for WVDCR said jail staff discovered the inmate had died on the morning of Friday, May 5, 2023, while performing routine cell checks.
“We empathize with the friends and families of those that have experienced the loss of a loved one that was placed in our care,” Malinoski added.
A Beckley attorney, Robert Dunlap, alleges one of his clients, who is incarcerated at Southern Regional Jail in the same pod as the Mercer County man, was emotionally distraught when he learned the inmate was dead. Dunlap said inmates learned of his death around 5 a.m. Friday.
Dunlap alleged jail staff had been aware the Mercer County inmate was in need of health care, before he allegedly committed suicide.
“The information that was shared with me was that the C.O.s knew or should have been aware that he had stopped eating, that another inmate had talked him out of self-harm, earlier. This is a gentleman who enjoys the presumption of innocence and is dead, today,” said Dunlap.
Dunlap, who has a class action lawsuit WVDOCR which alleges inmates do not receive adequate health care, including mental health care, at Southern Regional Jail, alleged on Friday that other inmates had provided emotional support to the Mercer County man before he allegedly committed suicide.
Dunlap alleged Friday that Southern Regional Jail does not employ enough mental health counselors to meet the needs of jail inmates and that the counselors at the jail are also required to perform the jobs of corrections officers, due to a severe staff shortage.
In a press release, Malinoski said, “As a standard practice, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation offers counseling for all parties involved in situations like these.”
The name of the dead inmate was not released by Malinoski’s agency in the press release, his weight at the time he entered the jail was also not released. Malinoski said the inmate’s weight at time of death will not be available until an autopsy is conducted.
The West Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office conducts autopsies of inmates.
Dunlap and other attorneys in the class action lawsuit, including Stephen P. New, said they are reviewing past autopsy findings by the State Medical Examiner’s Office, after, they said, private autopsies of inmates commissioned by family members allegedly demonstrated injuries which the State Medical Examiner’s Office had allegedly failed to find.