Davis County Jail suicide cases came with warning signs

Sunday , May 28, 2017 - 12:00 AM

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

FARMINGTON — Two of three Davis County Jail inmates who died by hanging during an 8-week period in 2016 exhibited odd behavior in the days leading up to their deaths, according to investigative reports.

MORE: Davis doctor denies 51-year-old’s cancer diagnosis 4 days before suicide

The Davis jail had 5 deaths in 2016, details of which have emerged via a series of open records requests. Statewide, Utah had a record 23 jail deaths last year, a trend that has sparked talk of reform among state legislators and civil liberties advocates.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in American jails, accounting for 34 percent of deaths in 2014, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows.

The suicide rate was 50 per 100,000 jail inmates nationally, the highest rate in 17 years, the agency reported.

RELATED: System-wide shortfalls lead to high rate of Utah jail deaths

READ MORE: Investigating jail deaths in Northern Utah

DATABASE: Learn more about in-custody deaths in Northern Utah Jails

Flint Harrison, 52, was the first of the three summer hangings. He was arrested in May and was being held on murder and aggravated kidnapping charges connected to allegations of kidnapping five women in a drug-related dispute in Centerville and later killing a Utah Transit Authority worker. 

If convicted on the murder charge, he may have faced the death penalty.

He was found hanging in his cell early July 25.

Harrison gave away his jail commissary items to another inmate, who told investigators Harrison “was not acting right and seemed kind of distant,” an independent investigative report by the Weber County Sheriff’s Office said.

The inmate said two nights before Harrison’s death he stood looking down from the top tier of the cell block and asked if a fall from there would kill him. 

“No, it would just hurt you,” the inmate said he told Harrison.

That inmate and others said Harrison cried July 22 as the cell block sang him happy birthday. Another said Harrison seemed sad about his son, Dereck, who was implicated in the same crimes and was being held on similar charges in another cell block. The elder Harrison also left a love letter for his wife.

None of the inmates reported any of Harrison’s behavior to guards, the investigative report said.

No evidence of foul play was found and the case was closed Dec. 12, 2016, categorized as a suicide.

The second jail hanging was that of 20-year-old Dominic Landreth. His trouble began in July 2015 when Clearfield police responded to a noise complaint. Officers said Landreth gave them a fake name and had methamphetamine and marijuana. He pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor drug possession charge and was given a suspended jail sentence.

But Landreth was arrested again in Layton on April 19, 2016, after a disturbance outside a Layton business. He was jailed again on charges of methamphetamine and marijuana possession, plus trespassing and drug intoxication. He also was charged with a probation violation.

Second District Judge John Morris on May 13, 2016, sentenced him to up to 120 days in jail on the two cases.

Landreth was found hanging in a jail shower at 5:55 p.m. Aug. 22, Davis County Sheriff’s Office reports said.

A little over an hour before, a guard reported “unusual behavior” to his supervisor — that Landreth stood still for about 10 minutes with a towel on his head, looking over the railing of the top tier.

The Davis investigative report listed the death as a suicide but an independent investigation by the Unified Police Department remains open, spokeswoman Nicki Dokos said.

State law does not require jails to announce in-custody deaths. The Davis sheriff’s office issued a press release about Harrison, but the Landreth and Velarde (see main story) cases were only revealed via an open records request.

The other two Davis jail deaths in 2016 were attributed to heart failure (Kara Noakes, June 23) and a fall (Heather Ashton Miller, Dec. 21). Family and friends of the two women have alleged negligence and mistreatment by jail personnel caused or contributed to their deaths.


NEED HELP? 

Those thinking of harming themselves have several resources available:

Weber Human Services emergency or crisis services, 801 625-3700. 

Davis Behavioral Health 24-Hour Crisis Response Line, 801-773-7060

National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah, 801-323-9900

Family Counseling Service of Northern Utah, 801-399-1600

Intermountain McKay-Dee Hospital Behavioral Health, 801-387-5600

Davis Hospital: Behavioral Health Unit and Emergency Room, 801-807-1000

Lakeview Hospital: Behavioral Health Unit and Emergency Room, 801-299-2200

Live Hannah’s Hope: Empowering Youth. 


You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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