Report: Protocol not followed before Durham jail suicide

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Report: Protocol not followed before Durham jail suicide

An investigation shows the Durham County Detention Center did not follow proper protocol in checking on a teenager before her death that was later ruled a suicide.

Uniece Fennell, 17, was found in her cell early in the morning on March 23.

The Division of Health Service Regulation under the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services conducted an investigation days later on March 29.

The report shows Durham County jail officers failed to check on the teen regularly and did not report a tip from another inmate that Fennel was a threat to herself.


She was found hanged March 23 by an officer at 2:48 a.m. She was pronounced dead at 3:40 a.m. The DHHS report indicates that "the manner of death was suicide with a bed sheet." The Office of the Medical Examiner ruled Fennell's death a suicide. She had been in jail since last July on a murder charge after allegedly being involved in a drive-by shooting.


The investigation found that officers were not in compliance with certain policies around that time.

According to the report, officers are supposed to make supervision rounds and "directly observe each inmate in person at least twice per hour on an irregular basis." It also says the supervision has to be documented. Through interviews and what was documented, investigators found that rule was not followed.

The report shows that on March 22 only "one documented supervision round was made during the 11am, 12pm, 8pm and 10pm hour."

The report also says officers are supposed to "directly observe, at least four times an hour," inmates who display the following behavior:

  1. Physically hitting or trying to hit an officer

  2. Being verbally abusive

  3. Stating he will do harm to himself

  4. Intoxicated

  5. Displaying erratic behavior such as screaming, crying, laughing uncontrollably, or refusing to talk at all.

The investigation found an undated written statement from an officer working on March 23 which indicated the following:

"...the officer had interaction with an inmate during the course of her shift; and that the inmate was observed standing by her cell door every time the officer passed the cell. The record further indicated that during the 1:00 am hour the officer received a telephone call from another Pod officer; and that the other officer stated they were informed by an inmate that the inmate was talking about hurting herself."

The report showed that same officer did two and a half rounds during the 1:00 a.m. hour, she checked on the inmate and the inmate told the officer she was ok.

The Durham County Sheriff's Office confirms she was last checked on at 2:18 a.m.

The officer then found the inmate hanging at 2:48 a.m. It goes on to say:

"There was no record of the officer contacting her supervisor or contacting medical staff to report that there had been information received that the inmate had discussed harming herself."

New Durham jail director Col. Anthony Prignano said he's implemented new policies to make sure officers are checking on inmates in accordance with state regulations.

While in jail, Fennell learned that her twin brother was killed. According to a family friend, this happened shortly after their birthday.

A spokesperson for the Durham County Sheriff's Office said the detention facility was informed of the death of her brother. At the time, they said steps were taken to connect her with the mental health staff. They said their records indicate that the staff requested that she receive counseling but that it did not result in a recommendation for suicide observation. They said the then-detention services director ordered the staff to put Fennell under watch and to increase her cell checks to four times an hour.

According to them, Fennell requested to be removed from observation and signed a no-harm document required by the mental health staff.

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