A teenager charged with murder appears to have killed herself early Thursday at the Durham County Detention Center, the sheriff's office said.
Uniece Glenae Fennell, 17, was being held on $5 million bail in the shooting death of Andre Bond on July 10, 2016. Bond was found dead on Woodview Drive in what appeared to have been a drive-by attack.
Detectives called to “an apparent suicide” at 3:30 a.m. found Fennell unresponsive and paramedics pronounced her dead, spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs said.
Fennell, who was alone in her cell, was not on suicide watch, Gibbs said.
Investigators had not yet reported the cause of death Thursday afternoon, and Gibbs said she could not comment on whether the death was related to ventilation grates that Sheriff Mike Andrews said last year he wanted to replace with “suicide-proof” grates.
Gibbs also could not say when Fennell was last checked before she died.
“The staff follows state guidelines that mandate detention officers to directly observe detainees twice within the same hour on an irregular basis,” she said by email. “The routine checks are increased to four times within the hour, if a detainee is intoxicated (blood alcohol content above 0.15), verbally abusive, displaying erratic behavior or under suicide observation.”
There were 12 suicide attempts at the jail in 2015, the last date for which figures were immediately available Thursday, and 15 in 2014, according to a definition the sheriff’s office uses that includes any “self-harming behavior that could result in death.”
Twin brother shot
On Wednesday, Fennell’s attorney Alex Charns had written to jail officials to complain about a detention officer he said had called Fennell a “murderer” and referred to inmates as “bitches.”
An email reply from the sheriff’s office, supplied by Charns, asked why Fennell had not filed her complaint through the jail’s standard kiosk system.
On Thursday, Charns wrote back: “I now ask for an independent investigation of the death of Uniece Fennell to ensure a fair investigation, and make sure all witnesses, particularly inmates, feel free to speak the truth and not feel that they are subject to reprisals.”
Fennell’s family issued a statement saying they were heartbroken and “knew she was innocent of the charges against her,” according to Charns, who added, “They knew that she should not be in jail.”
Charns also said officials had not allowed Fennell, known as Niecey, to attend her twin brother’s funeral after he was found fatally shot Nov. 1 on East Pilot Street. Demoraea Fennell, 17, died later that day at Duke University Hospital.
Jose Kendell, whom police charged under the name Joseph Kendell Jr., was arrested with Fennell in Bond’s death and remains in custody without bail at the jail. He is now 22 years old.
Another arrest warrant charges a third person, Demonte Christopher, 19, with murder, but police had not found him as of Thursday.
A grand jury last year indicted Uniece Fennell and Kendell on charges of firing a gun into occupied property and firing a gun as part of a pattern of gang activity.
Kendell is being held without bail on the murder charge, and a magistrate set his bail at $300,000 on the gun-shooting charges.
State prison officials list Christopher as an absconder from an 18-month probation sentence imposed in March 2016 after he was convicted of misdemeanor larceny and misdemeanor breaking and entering.
Police have not said whether Bond’s and Demoraea Fennell’s killings were connected.
Fennell, Kendell and Christopher knew each other, police said, and Kendell and Fennell were together when police arrested them July 26.
4th jail death
The Inside-Outside Alliance, which has protested jail conditions, called Fennell’s death a “horrible tragedy,” according to a statement provided by member Joe Stapleton.
“At least this time the public was informed about a death at the jail,” the statement said. “That is only because of the fierce struggle for justice undertaken by family, loved ones, friends and community members after Matthew McCain’s death in January 2016.”
McCain, who had hypertension and diabetes, was found unresponsive in his cell and was pronounced dead a short time later.
“Uniece is the fourth person since 2015 to die in the Durham County Jail under the direction of Sheriff Mike Andrews,” the statement said. “Though we don’t know the exact circumstances of Uniece’s death, we do know that no one should ever die in jail.”
A federal assessment last June recommended and Andrews has said he wants to dedicate a pod of cells in the jail for inmates with mental health issues.
Gibbs said the sheriff’s office is working to fill staff vacancies in order to open the mental health pod. Andrews estimates one in four inmates have mental health issues.
Ron Gallagher: 919-829-4572
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