Durham News

Questions surround Durham jail inmate’s death

The girlfriend of a man who died in the Durham County jail this month says she worried about him in the days before his death.

“He felt like he was going to die in there,” Ashley Canady said.

Matthew McCain, 29, was found unresponsive in his cell at 5:30 a.m. Jan. 19, about 30 minutes after he had last been checked. Paramedics pronounced him dead at 6:08 a.m. The Sheriff’s Office and Durham County Department of Public Health are each investigating his death.

Canady said she received an automated message Jan. 19 that McCain had been released from jail. Later that day, she found out from his cousin that he had actually died in custody.

The Sheriff’s Office explained in a statement Tuesday that when inmates die, the database lists them as “out of custody” due to “general release.”

Because the system notifies friends and relatives of any change in an inmate’s custody status, Canady and McCain’s relatives received a message hours after his death that he had been released.

Tamara Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said in an email Wednesday that a detective spoke in person with Felicia Allen, McCain’s aunt, the morning he died. McCain had listed Allen as his next of kin. The detective then contacted McCain’s mother, Vicky McCain.

McCain was arrested in August on charges including assault of a female, assault with a deadly weapon, criminal trespassing, battery of an unborn child, and probation violation, according to public records.

According to Canady, McCain was epileptic and diabetic. She said he wrote and called often about receiving insufficient insulin treatments.

His last letter was written Jan. 15 and postmarked Jan. 19, the day he died, she said.

The Inside-Outside Alliance, a Durham jail inmate advocacy group, has also raised questions about the medical care McCain received while in custody.

The Sheriff’s Office has referred all questions regarding McCain’s medical care and history to Correct Care Solutions, the medical services provider under contract with the Durham County Public Health Department.

Correct Care Solutions is currently being sued by the family of Dino Vann Nixon in Forsyth County, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. The family alleges jail officials refused to provide medication and ignored his medical condition. Nixon died Aug. 5, 2013.

Company spokesman Jim Cheney declined to comment due to the ongoing investigations into McCain’s death except to say Correct Care Solutions was cooperating with the Durham County Public Health Department.

Brenda Howerton, vice chairwoman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, expressed condolences to McCain’s family during the commissioners’ meeting Monday.

“We clearly want to understand exactly what happened and assess whether everything possible was done to provide good quality health care and respond to any signs of distress in a timely manner,” Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said in an interview Tuesday.

Previous deaths

The Durham County Department of Public Health announced Monday that it will conduct an independent investigation of McCain’s death.

Spokesman Erik Nickens said this was “standard practice” when an inmate dies.

Efforts to obtain the department’s reports on investigations of two inmate deaths in 2015 were unsuccessful.

The Sheriff’s Office identified those inmates as Dennis Edward McMurray and Raphael Marquis Bennett.

McMurray died Jan. 10, 2015, of an accidental drug overdose, according to an autopsy report.

He had been booked into the jail Jan. 9. On Jan. 10, he complained of stomach pain and vomiting. He was checked by medical staff and returned to his cell.

At 1:30 p.m. McMurray was seen sitting up. Staff arrived at 1:36 p.m. with nausea medication and found him unresponsive on the floor.

McMurray was pronounced dead at 2:11 p.m. The report said he had wadded aluminum foil in his stomach filled with brown material.

According to Gibbs, detectives determined McMurray had swallowed the drugs before detectives entered his home Jan. 9. The team had a warrant to search for illegal drugs.

Bennett, the second inmate, died Aug. 31, 2015. Gibbs said the investigation into his death is ongoing and the autopsy is pending.

Jail inspections

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services performs biannual reviews of the Durham County jail.

The most recent inspection, conducted in October, indicated that the medical plan was not in compliance with state rules. The plan is required to be reviewed annually by the local health director. The inspection report said it had been more than a year since the jail’s plan had been reviewed.

According to Gibbs, the plan was completed when inspectors visited but was “still in the sign-off phase.” The plan must be reviewed and signed by the county board chairman, Correct Care Solutions, the Sheriff’s Office, and other agencies, she said.

An earlier report in April found supervision rounds were out of compliance. State rules require officers to make rounds twice per hour on an irregular basis. According to the report, records revealed gaps of 90 minutes between rounds.

Ritchie: 919-829-8925