Nineteen deaths since 2012 at the Macomb County jail should “set off alarm bells,” say jail reform advocates and family members that have lost loved ones.
“This is what we call a complex, systemic failure,” said Dan Korobkin, the deputy legal director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We’re talking about an overall systemic problem where multiple people are dying and probably unnecessarily.”
In 2014, Ryan Hagerman was jailed for less than 24-hours before he was beaten to death by his roommate, an 18-year-old man who suffered from mental illness that had already attacked another inmate.
The attack went on for nearly two minutes before deputies stepped in.
According to Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, no one from his staff was found to have violated jail policy in the events leading up to Hagerman’s death.
“Does that mean because somebody’s in jail, that their life is any less valuable than somebody else’s?” asked his mother, Debbie Hagerman. “That’s what I think sometimes. It’s like, ‘Oh well.’”
Korobkin says the 19 deaths since 2012 should “set off alarm bells in Macomb County, they should set it off at the state level and if none of that works, they should set it off at the federal level.”
Apart from the human cost, these deaths come at a cost to taxpayers. Just this year, Macomb County settled a wrongful death suit with the family of Bronislaw Kulpa, who was locked up in one of the jail’s detox cells.
When guards tried to move Kulpa to the jail’s medical unit, he resisted—causing a team of deputies to restrain him, with one 300 lb. deputy placing his knee in the center of the 63-year-old’s back.
Kulpa suffered a heart attack and later died. The county settled the wrongful death case for $1.6 million.
“When you hear 19, it sounds like it’s a lot. But when we look at—six of them were suicides. One was a homicide,” Sheriff Wickersham said.
“Well, don’t those count too?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
“Yes, they count. They all count,” Wickersham said.
The sheriff said his deputies closely follow jail policies and procedures to keep inmates safe. In response to a rash of suicides, Wickersham temporarily increased inmate check-ins from every 50 minutes to every 30 minutes. The jail also purchased body scanners to better spot inmates bringing in drugs or other contraband that could harm themselves or others.
“We do our best,” Wickersham said. “We do our best with what we have. We have policies, we have procedures.”
Debbie Hagerman says, four years after her son's death, she’d appreciate at least an apology for her son’s brutal death.
“I think (Wickersham) just needs to look at his track record. How can he just ignore all of this that’s happening?” she asked. “These are just human beings. They did something wrong, and they’re in jail. But they’re getting beat up, they’re getting injured. They’re losing their lives.”