MT. CLEMENS (WXYZ) — As Macomb County Commissioners consider whether to build a new $371 million jail, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham says a new facility could lead to better inmate safety.
“I’m the individual that’s on TV every time something bad happens,” Wickersham said. “I’m the one who keeps getting asked, ‘What are you doing to fix the problems inside the Macomb County jail?’”
As 7 Action News reported last year, at least 20 inmates have died inside the jail since 2012.
Debbie Hagerman’s son Ryan died at the hand of his cellmate, 18-year-old Marc Cowans, a “high observation” inmate who was supposed to be watched 24-hours a day.
“I don’t think I even really knew at the time how to comprehend what was going on,” his mother told 7 Action News.
Jail surveillance cameras show Hagerman was assaulted for nearly two minutes before any deputy entered the cell.
Sheriff Anthony Wickersham to Channel 7’s Ross Jones that no one was disciplined over Hagerman’s death.
“I don’t know exactly where everyone was coming from and what was going on, but yes,” Wickersham said. “Two minutes seemed like a long time.”
The causes of death since 2012 range from sepsis to drug overdoses to suicide.
Wickersham defended the jail’s record in an interview last year, even though neighboring Oakland County—that houses more than 400 inmates a day—saw less than half the number of deaths that Macomb reported.
“It sounds like it’s a lot. But when we look at, six of them were suicides. One was a homicide,” Wickersham said.
“Well, don’t those count too?” asked Jones.
“Yes, they count,” Wickersham said. “They all count.”
Regardless of whether a new jail is built, jail and prison reform advocates like Dan Korobkin of the ACLU of Michigan say the high death toll is a sign of bigger problems.
“They 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,” he said.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.