19 inmates have died inside Macomb County’s jail since 2012, with the most recent death—the suicide of 51-year-old Alfred Paige—happening just this month.
“Multiple people are dying, and probably unnecessarily,” said Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We owe a duty to all people in the world and all people in society to treat them humanely.”
The causes of death range from heart attacks to sepsis, drug overdoses to suicides. Some of the inmates battled mental illness or addiction.
When 34-year-old Ryan Hagerman was transported to Macomb County jail in 2014, he was paired up with a cellmate, 18-year-old Marc Cowans. Both suffered from mental illness and were classified as “high observation” inmates.
But as one officer would later testify, Hagerman’s roommate had just been transported by Warren Police where he had already assaulted another prisoner and wrestled with a state trooper.
“The Warren police officer told them, ‘Put this guy in isolation. He’s assaultive, he’s crazy. Don’t let anybody near him,’” said Ven Johnson, an attorney for the Hagerman family.
Instead, Cowans was locked in a cell with Hagerman. Less than 24-hours later, Cowans would pull him from his bunk bed and begin beating him to death.
Jail surveillance recorded the horrific attack and showed that Hagerman was assaulted for nearly two minutes before a Macomb deputy ever even entered the cell.
Debbie Hagerman learned of her son’s attack by a phone call.
“I don’t think I even really knew at the time how to comprehend what was going on,” she
said. “Basically there was no hope for Ryan, so we made the decision to take him off of
Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, in charge at the Macomb County Jail since 2011, said his deputies “do our best with what we have and we have policies and we have procedures.”
Despite pairing Hagerman with an inmate with a history of violence and the nearly two minutes it took for someone to respond to his assault, Wickersham says no department policy was violated—and no employee faced discipline.
“Mr. Hagerman died, and no one was disciplined?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
“I’d have to look at the file,” Wickersham said. “I don’t know exactly where everyone was coming from and what was going on But, yes. Two minutes seemed like a long time.”
Debbie Hagerman didn’t realize no one had been disciplined following her son’s death
until we told her.
Following our interview, a Sheriff's spokesperson said that deputies were "pre-occupied when the assault occurred," adding that there was "no wrong doing" by any member of the Sheriff's staff.
“How can he even come out and say that to you, with a clear conscience?” asked Debbie Hagerman. “To tell you that nobody was disciplined. Shouldn’t he have been disciplined too?"