Heroux Commits to Addressing ‘Blindspots’ After Apparent Inmate Suicide at Dartmouth Jail
On January 5, approximately 36 hours after former State Rep and Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux was sworn in as Bristol County Sheriff, an inmate was discovered deceased in his cell at the House of Correction in Dartmouth.
The suspected cause of death is suicide by hanging.
According to a statement by Sheriff Spokesperson Jonathan Darling, the deceased individual’s cellmate alerted officers to a medical emergency Thursday night around 7 p.m. Officers and health care professionals immediately administered emergency medical care.
The individual, a 41-year-old New Bedford man, was transported by ambulance to St. Luke’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Darling also said the deceased's cellmate as well as the inmates in the unit underwent a mental health evaluation and counseling services were provided to the officers and staff who responded to the incident.
The incident is under investigation by the office of Bristol County District Attorney Tom Quinn.
Quinn's office said that the man arrived at the House of Correction on January 3 and was being held on $2500 cash bail for drug charges.
The BCSO had made the incident known to WBSM on Friday. Heroux made an appearance on WBSM's SouthCoast Tonight that same evening to make known as much as his office could while the inmate's death is under investigation and discuss how the BCSO will move forward.
"What I have to recognize is that we're not doing something right," Heroux said.
Heroux said that the BCSO is going to contract the services of an outside expert to evaluate their suicide prevention procedures and find out what they are doing wrong in order to curb what he identified as a rate of inmate suicide two and a half times higher than it should be based on their population.
"We have a blindspot somewhere, and we're going to need somebody else to help us figure out what that is," Heroux said. "To look at our process of intake and how we're classifying people."
Heroux said that prior to this incident he had already brought in two of his former colleagues from his time as a corrections administrator, including a former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction.
According to Heroux, he and BCSO Superintendent Steven Sousa spent around 10 hours with the two experts identifying areas which they thought needed to be approved on. Suicide prevention was one of the areas discussed.
Heroux said he has already identified suicide prevention experts that he would be looking to contract with. However, because the BCSO is a public agency, contracting them may have to go through the months-long Request for Proposal (RFP) process mandated by Massachusetts state law.
Once the expert is contracted, he expects it will be up to a six month long process for them to gather the necessary data, make an evaluation, and produce a report that identifies the "blindspots" and provides recommendations on how to address them.
The Democrat Heroux was elevated to the office of sheriff after his narrow electoral victory over longtime Republican Sheriff Tom Hodgson in November.
During the election, Heroux repeatedly criticized Hodgson over the rate of inmate suicides at Bristol County jails, which have been reported to be the highest in the Commonwealth.
The issue had come to the forefront of the discussion for both Heroux's and Hodgson's campaigns following the death of Truro man Adam Howe.
Howe committed suicide by asphyxiation while being held at the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford on suspicion of murdering his mother. It was later discovered that within minutes of Howe's suicide, another inmate at Ash Street had attempted suicide but was stopped by correctional officers.
After Howe's death, Hodgson had maintained that his staff went "above and beyond" what was required of them in detaining Howe. Hodgson had also said that his critics would not be able to tell the BCSO what they are not doing to curb suicides.
Heroux acknowledged that he was impressed with the protocols that were in place to make counseling services available to inmates and staff after the deceased was found.
However, he made a point to distance himself from his predecessors defensive position on BCSO's inmate suicide rate.
"I have a hard time believing we are doing everything right. We've got to be missing something," Heroux said.
The new sheriff also acknowledged that now that he is in charge, he bears the responsibility on improving on BCSO's inmate suicide issues going forward.
"I own this now," Heroux emphasized. "I have to do to something about this, and people are expecting me to do something about this."
Listen to Bristol County Sheriff Heroux's Interview on SouthCoast Tonight