A review by the state Department of Health and Human Services suggests that Uniece Fennell, a seventeen-year-old found hanged
at the Durham County Detention Facility in March, had spoken about harming herself, but was not placed on suicide watch per jail protocol.
According to the review, which was first reported by The News & Observer
, an officer was informed by another inmate that Fennell had been talking about hurting herself and, sometime between one and two a.m., reported this information to an officer working in the pod where Fennell was being housed. But, the review says, "there was no record of the officer contacting her supervisor or contacting medical staff to report that there had been information received that the inmate had discussed harming herself."
According to an inmate death report released by the Durham County Sheriff's Office, Fennell was last seen alive by a guard at 2:18 a.m. on March 23. She was found dead hanging from a sheet tied to the bars on the windows in her cell thirty minutes later and pronounced dead at 3:40 a.m.
Per state policy, inmates who try to harm an officer, are verbally abusive, make statements about harming themselves, are intoxicated, display "erratic behavior," or have a previous record of a suicide attempt or mental illness are supposed to be observed four times per hour, as opposed to twice per hour for other inmates.
According to the review, an officer checked on Fennell at least twice between one a.m. and two a.m., and that Fennell told the officer "she was OK."
The review also indicates that guards didn't consistently meet the twice-per-hour rounds requirement. State inspectors reviewed records from about 2:08 a.m. on March 22 to 9:56 a.m. on March 23 and found that during four one-hour periods, there was only one round made and that during two one-hour periods no rounds were made.
The Sheriff's Office death report and an autopsy by the Office of the State Medical Examiner have ruled Fennell's death a suicide, but her family believes
foul play was involved and has had an independent autopsy conducted.