Inmate suicide probe begins

Posted Jan. 04, 2010, at 8:43 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:48 a.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Investigators from the Maine Department of Corrections were in Ellsworth on Monday to review procedures at Hancock County Jail in the wake of an escape by an inmate from Superior Court last Wednesday and his subsequent death in his cell on New Year’s Day.

Timothy Sawyer, 42, of Brooklin, was found dead Friday in the shower area of his cell hanging from shower fixtures.

The state medical examiner’s office has ruled his death a suicide.

Sawyer was arrested on Dec. 27 and was in court on Dec. 30 when he bolted from the courtroom at the Hancock County Courthouse and stole a car with an 18-year-old woman in the passenger seat. He was captured a short time later and arraigned on Dec. 31 on charges of escape, kidnapping, terrorizing, robbery and theft in connection with his attempt to escape.

Corrections officers found Sawyer in the shower area of his cell at about 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 1. According to Hancock County Sheriff William Clark, he last was seen alive about a half-hour before that.

“We do population checks on a regular basis,” Clark said Monday. “That was done a little after 9 a.m.”

Clark said that, according to family members, Sawyer was being treated for depression at the time of his arrest, but had gone off his medication. Sawyer told corrections officers when he was booked into the jail that he was not taking any medications, Clark said.

“He didn’t divulge that information to us,” the sheriff said. “Unfortunately, we found out about it after the fact.”

Clark said he did not know whether that information would have affected the mental health evaluation that was done on Sawyer when he was brought back to the jail.

Mental health authorities had assessed his well-being on Thursday and cleared Sawyer for placement within the general jail population, according to a previous statement from the Sheriff’s Department. Because he was considered a flight risk, Sawyer was being held in the maximum security portion of the jail.

Clark said this is the first suicide at the Hancock County Jail since he became sheriff 29 years ago.

According to Ralph Nichols, director of operations for the state Corrections Department, investigators will focus on operational procedures and standards at the jail.

“There are a number of standards established about jail operations,” Nichols said Monday. “We do our investigation to see if there were any violations of those standards.”

The investigation will look at jail procedures, including supervision of the inmate, how he was housed, and whether there was a mental health assessment when Sawyer was admitted to the jail. The investigators also will review staff training.

The on-site investigation generally lasts for two days, and the investigators were expected to be back at the jail again today. Nichols said they also will confiscate all documentation and records related to the incident.

If investigators were to find violations, the jail would face an enforcement action and would have 60 days in which to correct any violations.

Sheriff Clark also is conducting an internal investigation of the escape. Clark said he would use staff from the Penobscot County Jail who will serve as consultants. They are expected to be at the jail today.

“We’ll focus more on the escape,” Clark said. “We’ll be doing a review to make sure we have adequate policies and procedures in place.”

Detectives from the Maine State Police Criminal Investigation Division are conducting an investigation into Sawyer’s death.

Other than the results from the autopsy from the state medical examiner’s office, no additional information has been released in the case, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Monday.

rhewitt@bangordailynews.net

667-9394

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