On Friday, outside the Durham County Detention Center, chants of "shut it down" and "no justice, no peace" echoed against the jail's exterior. Orange blurs pressed against the building's barred windows and waved. Down below, the family and friends of Uniece Fennell, who eight days earlier was also behind those bars, waved back.
Fennell, who was seventeen, was found dead at the jail March 23. The Sheriff's Office says she committed suicide by hanging herself with a sheet tied to a bar on the window in her cell. Her family doesn't buy it.
The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating Fennell's death, but the family wants the inquiry taken beyond the SBI. They're also asking that the county sheriff be held accountable for failing to fix what they call "the long-known problem of the risk of the bars in certain cells and all other unsafe conditions."
About two dozen people gathered Friday morning to make these demands and remember Fennell. Some commemorated "the Fennell Twins"; Fennell's twin brother, Demoraea, was shot and killed in November. "My daughter, Niecey Fennell, was a minor being held in an adult facility that could not provide the basic necessities for a minor, including safety," Julia Graves said in a statement released Friday morning. "Niecey [would] not harm herself, due to her religious beliefs."
Fennell was jailed last summer after being charged with the murder of a nineteen-year-old. Her friends and family say she was not a murderer but was threatened and forced to go along on a July 10 drive-by shooting committed by another person who has not yet been apprehended.
Talking on speakerphone from California, Graves said she is seeking an independent autopsy. "She has what appears to be a broken nose, black eye, and bruising everywhere on both sides of her body. Not consistent with the way they said she killed herself," says the family's fundraising site, which seeks money to transport Fennell's body to California.
Fennell's mother also finds it strange that her daughter's death came less than a day after Fennell's attorney complained to a jail official of Fennell's alleged harassment by a detention officer. The Sheriff's Office says Fennell submitted no formal complaints and that the officer in question resigned two weeks before attorney Alex Charns emailed the complaint to Major Julian Couch.
"We need to know exactly what happened that night," said Tarshella Fountain, Fennell's sister.
This article appeared in print with the headline "+DEATH AT THE JAIL."