NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An autopsy is scheduled for Friday on the body of a 23-year-old man who died in the new New Orleans jail — the fourth inmate death at the facility since it opened in September.
Colby Crawford was pronounced dead Wednesday night after his cellmate found him unresponsive at around 8 p.m., the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. The statement said there were no signs of physical trauma or self-inflicted injury.
The jail, known as the Orleans Justice Center, opened as Sheriff Marlin Gusman was struggling to comply with reforms under a court agreement he reached to settle a 2012 lawsuit. In that suit, inmate advocates and the U.S. Justice Department decried unsafe conditions, including violence and insufficient medical and mental health treatment.
He hailed the opening of the nearly $150 million jail as an important step in operating a safer jail. But court-appointed monitors said progress remained slow, and the new jail remained a dangerous place for inmates and staff.
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Since the opening, a transgender woman has filed a lawsuit saying she was raped at the newly opened facility. A 61-year-old inmate hanged himself in a shower in March. His sister filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday morning. A 15-year-old murder suspect, Jaquin Thomas, hanged himself with a mattress cover in October. His grandmother has hired an attorney.
Another inmate, Calvin James Deal, died in November. The mother of his child has alleged in a lawsuit that he was denied needed medical treatment. Her federal lawsuit was dismissed this month.
The suicides and continued violence at the new jail led to increasing calls by inmate advocates and city officials for the federal court to place the jail in receivership, effectively relieving Gusman of his chief responsibility.
Gusman, who has long blamed the jails problems on inadequate funding from the city, avoided that move by agreeing to cede broad authority over the jail to a “compliance director.” With a federal judge’s approval, former Maryland corrections official Gary Maynard took the job last fall.
Crawford had been held since May on multiple charges. The Sheriff’s Office statement said charges included aggravated battery, domestic abuse with a dangerous weapon and probation violation. Online records show he had two hearings set for late March, including a mental competency hearing.