Reno Gazette-Journal's Death Behind Bars Feature Story - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Reno Gazette-Journal's Death Behind Bars Feature Story

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It all started with an anonymous phone call back in April of 2016. Reno Gazette-Journal reporter, Anjeanette Damon, received a tip that there had recently been a spike in suicides inside the Washoe County Jail. Her first step was to put in a public records request.

"I thought maybe there would be a bump in suicides but when we got the numbers back, it told us there was something to look into there," said Damon.

Damon soon discovered that the Washoe County Jail's suicide rate is five times the national average, with six inmates committing suicide since January of 2015. She believes there's concrete reasoning as to why this jump in deaths may have occurred.

"There's a change in administration, there's a change in the healthcare provider in the jail, we went through the recession and the jail lost a lot of long-term staff," said Damon.

Sheriff Chuck Allen says he doesn't believe the trend had to do with his administration, and instead that this spike can happen at any time.

"Zero is a great goal to attain no matter what you're talking about as it relates to human life and unexpected tragedies, but it's unfortunate and untimely that the numbers went up," said Allen.

The sheriff says any deaths inside the jail are taken very seriously, and anytime someone does lose their life, officials are constantly looking into how to make matters safer for everyone.

“Whether it's in this facility, out in the community, a fatality, a homicide, a death in the jail we scrutinize and evaluate every facet of that unfortunate event," said Allen.

Here is the link to the RGJ's entire feature story: http://www.rgj.com/series/deathbehindbars.

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The following statement was issued by Washoe County Sheriff Chuck Allen on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. The original story above aired on Monday, April 10, 2017.

"In 2015 and 2016 the Washoe County Detention Facility was faced with a spike of in-custody deaths. Each of these resulted in a thorough and thoughtful investigation to help us better understand and mitigate critical community-wide issues that permeate our facility. These investigations helped lead to changes and pursuits aimed at prevention.

We understand that each of these people had a family, friends and loved ones and that they are deserving of respect and dignity regardless of the circumstances that led to their incarceration. We continue to evaluate our policies and procedures just as our society continues to face the numerous sources of these tragedies, including the overwhelming abuse of drugs and a seemingly insurmountable mental illness problem.

When a representative of the Reno Gazette-Journal approached us with the idea of doing a story about this situation, I welcomed the opportunity to participate in an open, journalistic dialogue with our community about the challenges faced by the Detention Facility. We spent countless hours working with Gazette-Journal staff, reviewing this multi-faceted situation in great detail. Our hopes were that our cooperation would lead to an honest and beneficial public discussion.

Unfortunately, corporate media has a different agenda. Shallow, pick and choose tabloidism is not the same as true journalism. Our goal was to solicit for realistic answers, not exploit an extremely painful situation.

I have now been asked to make another appearance before the RGJ – this time so that they may form an editorial opinion based on their series of reports. I firmly believe that their opinion has already been made and, in fact, widely articulated in their product. What it boils down to is I believe this was a politically charged, opinion based, agenda driven, multi-piece article intended to discredit me as Sheriff. To this day, there are those out there who are upset, and unable to accept, that I was elected Sheriff in 2014.

As the elected Sheriff of Washoe County, I am answerable directly to you, the public. I believe that any concerns you may have on an issue of this importance should receive substantive answers, not more rhetoric. Therefore, I have decided that, rather than accept the Reno Gazette-Journal’s opinion board request, I will remind the public that, as has always been the case, our doors are open to you and we have – and will – arrange facility tours along with making staff available to address concerns.  

This is not a time for further editorializing and exploitation. I invite any member of the public who may have questions about the professionalism of this agency, or my actions as your Sheriff, to have an honest, unfiltered, and effective discussion about your concerns.

There are many issues challenging the men and women of this Office. Our primary goal is the safety of our community and the preservation of life, however, it is the nature of what we do that many of our challenges involve unpleasant and tragic circumstances.

We agree with the idea that nobody should die in jail and, if we had our way, nobody would. But we must also accept that the reality of our situation is such that there are no simple or guaranteed solutions to the many issues that may result in someone’s life ending while in our custody. We are also painfully aware of the fact that we are human and errors are inevitable – our goal is to recognize those errors when they occur and respond appropriately to provide for the safety of our staff, and for the safety of those who are in our care and custody.    

To arrange a tour of the Washoe County Detention Facility and meet with myself and my staff, please call:  (775) 328-6385."

-Washoe County Sheriff Chuck Allen

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