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Autopsy: Cheshire County jail inmate died by suicide

Keene Sentinel - 5/14/2019

May 14-- May 14--An autopsy by the state medical examiner's office determined the recent death of a Cheshire County jail inmate was a suicide, according to Associate Attorney General Jeffery A. Strelzin.

Michael J. Richmond, 44, of Hinsdale died last Tuesday night at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, Keene police said last week.

The autopsy Friday found the cause of death to be hanging, Strelzin said.

Cheshire County jail Superintendent Richard Van Wickler said Monday that a correctional officer had spoken to Richmond sometime after 11 a.m. on Friday, May 3, about 15 minutes before the incident. Everyone at the jail is trained to spot an inmate at risk of suicide, he said, and the officer didn't detect anything out of the ordinary.

Richmond, who Van Wickler said was booked at the jail on May 1 following a parole violation, was held in his own cell in the R-block, a section that houses new inmates for up to a week while staff evaluate them. People in R-block spend nearly 23 hours a day in their cells, but can call jail staff through an intercom.

Before noon on May 3, the same officer circled back to Richmond and found him unresponsive, Van Wickler said, at which point the officer called for backup, and the jail went into lockdown, as is standard procedure during a medical emergency. According to Van Wickler, all inmates are required to stay in their cells during a lockdown.

Medical personnel were able to restart Richmond's heart, Van Wickler said, but he later died at the Lebanon hospital.

Keene police responded to the jail on Marlboro Road (Route 101) Friday, May 3, at about 11:40 a.m., Sgt. Thaddeus "T.J." Derendal said last week.

Keene police confirmed Richmond's death Wednesday, May 8, in response to an inquiry from The Sentinel. The evening before, The Sentinel had reached out to Van Wickler about the incident, who deferred questions to the police department as the "public information office" on the case.

On Wednesday, Derendal said an inmate had died after suffering a medical emergency, but declined to elaborate on the nature of that emergency pending the autopsy.

No red flags

At the Cheshire County jail Monday, those who knew Richmond were trying to come to terms with his passing. Van Wickler said the suicide surprised him.

"I've known Mike Richmond for probably 24 years because he was in and out of jail," Van Wickler said. "... He was the kind of person who lost his way with the law for a variety of reasons and was a recidivist of ours. And for the last several years, we haven't seen or heard from him."

The circumstances that led Richmond back to the jail this month are unclear. Van Wickler referred questions about the nature of Richmond's parole violation to the N.H. Department of Corrections. A spokeswoman from the department declined to describe how Richmond had allegedly violated his parole, but said he was placed on parole after assaulting a prisoner while he was incarcerated, and his parole was scheduled to end in 2022. She did not respond to a request for information on the location and date of the assault.

A man with the same name and birth date as Richmond was arrested April 29 in Northampton, Mass., on assault and battery and other charges, according to police there. But the officer declined to elaborate, saying additional information should be obtained from the records department.

The records department declined to give additional charges, but said Richmond was taken to the Hampshire County jail in Northampton. A representative from that facility declined last week to release information about Richmond's stay there, citing Massachusetts state law that prevents such a disclosure.

Barnes Peterson, mental health clinician at the jail, said Monday that Richmond had shown no signs of being at risk for suicide. Inmates with a history of self-harm, mental illness and other risk factors meet with a licensed clinician and are monitored more closely, according to Peterson. He said staff err on the side of caution and place people who present even a slight risk on suicide watch until a clinician can evaluate them. Inmates who need it can also be put on psychiatric medications. But he said Richmond wasn't flagged for any of those needs.

According to an obituary submitted to The Sentinel, Richmond was an organ donor, and four people have already received donations from him.

He worked at S&C Painting and enjoyed fishing with friends and family, his obituary says.

"The staff of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections performed their duties and responsibilities with remarkable professionalism and we grieve this loss of life," Van Wickler wrote in an email to The Sentinel Friday evening. "We come to know all offenders to some degree on a personal level and take seriously our charge to provide the best care, custody and management of each person and their unique set of circumstances."

Sentinel staff writer Jake Lahut contributed to this report.

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