The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

June 18, 2014

Prison board members review suicide response

SUNBURY — Two members of the Northumberland County Prison Board disagree with the quality of response that occurred when 34-year-old inmate Cyrus W. Lewis killed himself inside a prison cell Sunday night.

While county Commissioner and prison board Vice Chairman Rick Shoch complimented Warden Roy Johnson and his staff for swiftly following the proper procedures, Commissioner Vinny Clausi was not happy he was not contacted about the incident and had to find out about it through media reports the next day.

The death was the second suicide at the prison in 10 months.

Following a 20-minute executive session, Clausi made a motion that requires the warden to contact each prison board member in the event of a suicide or other similar incidents at the prison. It passed 5-0.

Shoch said he was impressed with Sgt. Jason Greek’s poise and control of the situation, and the rest of the staff deserved praise as well.

“I don’t know what else we could do, within reason, to prevent suicides. We can’t put guards in front of every inmate,” Johnson said after the meeting adjourned.

Lewis was last seen alive at 8:55 p.m. when he was last checked by prison staff. Within 27 minutes, Lewis hung himself with a strip of bedsheet tied to a windowsill at the back wall of the cell and was found at 9:22 p.m.

Although he was pronounced dead at Sunbury Community Hospital at 9:49 p.m., Johnson said Lewis was “probably dead before he was cut down.”

He described the response of his staff as “scrambling” and “hustling.”

Three levels exist for prisoners on regular checks. Level one has prisoners on a constant watch and are only allowed security smocks and two security blankets. Level two has prisoners on 15-minute checks with the smock and blankets. Level three has prisoners on 30-minute checks and access to intuitional clothing, bedding and mattresses.

Prisoners on suicide watch or parole are put on these three levels, Johnson said.

Sunbury Police Department, Coroner James Kelley and the prison staff are investigating the incident. Johnson said he is still has a few details left to finalize the timeline of the events before his case file is closed.

The state is notified of incidents, but they do not investigate since the county is its own governing authority, Johnson said.

The warden said he doesn’t anticipate any changes to protocol since everyone followed exactly what they were supposed to do.

Lewis was committed to the county prison last week in lieu of a combined $30,000 bail relating to two different sets of charges, including attempting to steal a pickup truck.

He was scheduled to appear before District Judge John Gembic III, of Shamokin, on June 24 for a preliminary hearing.

In August, Andrew Beers, 27, of Paxinos, an inmate at the county prison, and Andrew Howard, 33, of the Philadelphia area, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township, both were found dead by hanging in the separate prisons. Before August, it had been six years since inmate Ryan Francis, 19, committed suicide in the county jail.

In April, federal prisoner Lamont Chyanne Blount, 22, of Philadelphia, was found dead in a Snyder County Jail shower. No foul play was suspected.

In other business:

- The prison board members approved a three-day time window to provide proper medication to inmates with legal prescriptions. Several members had received complaints from inmates that it had taken too long for their medication for ailments such as heart disease or high blood pressure to be approved.

- Clausi said he doesn’t support appointing a solicitor for the board after John Muncer, who also works as the county assistant solicitor, resigned in April. The county code does not require it, he said.

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