Man dies while in custody at jail, death now under investigation

File photo of Iron County Sheriff's Office, Cedar City, Utah, April 15, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY – The Iron County Critical Incident Task Force is investigating the death of an inmate authorities say died while in the custody of the Iron County Jail just 19 hours after hospital personnel medically cleared and released him to police.

The task force was called in to investigate after the man went into cardiac arrest at the jail Tuesday, Cedar City Det. Mike Bleak said.

The string of events started Monday evening when Cedar City Police Sgt. Jerry Womack and Parowan Police Chief Ken Carpenter responded to a call at the Parowan TA Truck Stop, where a man was reported to have barricaded himself in the manager’s office. Womack was working for Parowan Police Department at the time.

The man, who had arrived on the Greyhound Bus, came out of the office and spoke with the police as soon as they identified themselves as law enforcement agents, Carpenter said.

The man told police he was being threatened by “20 black men” and pointed out vehicles in the parking lot he believed they were driving. Police investigated but found the allegations unsubstantiated, Carpenter said.

“He didn’t appear to be under the influence of anything but had severe paranoia and irrational fears,” he said.

According to the chief, police did not believe the man was under any influence of drugs or alcohol at the time but transported him to Cedar City Hospital because they believed he needed a mental health evaluation.

While en route, the man began threatening suicide, prompting Womack to commit him to the hospital.

“I decided he needed to be medically checked out and cleared,” Womack said, “so I did what is called an involuntary commitment.”

After checking him into the hospital, the officers left. However, police were called back several hours later after the man began causing a scene when doctors announced they were going to release him following a determination that he was not a threat to himself or others.

“(He) threw himself on the hospital floor,” Womack said, “and began threatening to knock out car windows in the parking lot.”

Cedar City Police responded, arresting the man for trespassing and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanor charges.

He didn’t feel safe out in the community and said he would do whatever he had to, to be taken into custody,” Womack said. “We arrested for the safety of the public.”

The man was booked into the Iron County Correctional Facility, Iron County Sheriff’s Lt. Del Schlosser said, and medical staff continued to monitor him.

At 5:03 p.m., nearly 19 hours later, dispatch sent out a 9-Echo, the medical priority code for cardiac arrest, calling for multiple units to respond. Echo is a code used by law enforcement when a subject has died, Bleak said.

Since authorities believe the death happened while the man was considered “in-custody,” the task force was deployed to investigate, Bleak said. Questions remain as to whether the man was alive at the time of transport.

Resuscitation efforts were made at the jail, Bleak said, along with the distribution of numerous drugs to “kick-start the heart again.”

However, he said, just because the heart may have been beating at the time of transport does not mean the man was alive.

“A heartbeat is not an indication of a pulse,” Bleak said. “I don’t have all the details at this point. What I do know is that the man went into cardiac arrest at the jail and did not regain consciousness and was officially pronounced dead at the hospital.”

The exact cause of death has not been determined as this report publishes.

“I attended the autopsy, and this point the manner and cause of death is listed as pending,” Bleak said. “There is no definitive cause of death at this time. We are waiting for the microscopic analysis and toxicology report to come back to make a final determination.”

Authorities have been unable to find next of kin and, as such, Schlosser said, they are not yet officially releasing the name of the deceased.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • Wolverine December 13, 2016 at 8:14 am

    Ok, there’s a lot missing, when did this happen? No dates are listed. The way the article is written makes it sound like this happened a long time ago. (“Womack was working for Parowan Police Department at the time.”) So, if this was not a recent event (like last week) when, exactly did this take place and why are we revisiting this now? It is very frustrating to try to understand what actually happened and when, with so many vital details missing.

    • Paul Dail Paul Dail December 13, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Wolverine, thank you for your questions regarding this article. Actually, I believe all of the information you are looking for can be found in the first three paragraphs:

      “CEDAR CITY – The Iron County Critical Incident Task Force is investigating the death of an inmate authorities say died while in the custody of the Iron County Jail just 19 hours after hospital personnel medically cleared and released him to police.

      The task force was called in to investigate after the man went into cardiac arrest at the jail Tuesday, Cedar City Det. Mike Bleak said.

      The string of events started Monday evening… ”

      As this article was published on Monday, Dec. 12, the Monday and Tuesday mentioned in these paragraphs would refer back to the previous week. Otherwise, the date would’ve been specified. This formatting of days and dates is specific to Associated Press writing guidelines.

      Hope that answers your questions. Thanks again for asking… and for reading St. George News.

      Paul Dail
      ST. GEORGE NEWS
      Editor, Reporter

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