State investigating Cashiers woman's death after being "found unresponsive" at Jackson Detention Center
By Quintin Ellison / WNC News Share
SYLVA -- State agents are investigating a Cashiers woman's death following her being "found unresponsive" at the Jackson County Detention Center.
On Jan. 22, Sheriff Chip Hall said a simultaneous internal review is also under way. The woman is Melissa Middleton Rice, 49, according to a Jackson County Sheriff’s Office news release.
“Detention staff provided medical attention (Jan. 16) while awaiting the arrival of Harris EMS and Sylva first responders,” the release said.
Rice later died at Memorial Mission Hospital in Asheville. Citing the open State Bureau of Investigation probe, Hall declined to make additional comment about her death.
State law requires detention officers observe each inmate in person twice an hour on an irregular basis. Officers’ rounds must be documented and electronic surveillance cannot substitute for physical checks.
If an inmate is combative, verbally abusive, says she will harm herself, displays erratic behavior or is intoxicated, detention officers must increase their checks to four times an hour. Four is also the minimum if an inmate has tried previously to kill herself or there is a record of mental illness.
Rice was charged Jan. 16 on numerous criminal charges, including simple assault; possession of stolen motor vehicle; larceny of motor vehicle; resisting public officer; assault on a government official; burning personal property; domestic criminal trespass; breaking and/or entering.
Following Hall’s election as sheriff in November 2014, and two detention center suicides at about that same time, the Jackson County Detention Center underwent substantial change in policy and procedure.
Inmate Chuckie Moose, 36, of Robbinsville, hanged himself Nov. 21, 2014, in a jail cell. Steve Ross, 38, of Sylva, was pronounced dead at Harris Regional Hospital on March 13, 2015, after also hanging himself in a jail cell.
A state jail inspector found Jackson County detention officers failed to physically view inmates as required and disregarded state protocol for detoxing prisoners.
In response to the suicides, he filed a corrective plan with the state; ordered a new policy and procedures manual be written for the detention center; conducted inmate intake and mental-health procedure reviews and created a new position for a detention center supervisor.
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