POLITICS

2 Weeks After Epstein's Death, Another Apparent Suicide Inside A Federal Jail

Jeffrey Epstein's death by suicide inside a federal jail put a spotlight on the high rate of suicides inside American jails.

Just two weeks after billionaire convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died of suicide inside a federal jail, yet another pretrial detainee jailed in a federal Bureau of Prisons facility has died in an apparent suicide, HuffPost has learned. 

Pedro Gonzalez, a 43-year-old who had been incarcerated since December after he was indicted for possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, was found unresponsive in his cell inside the Special Housing Unit of Miami’s Federal Detention Center (FDC) at around 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, the BOP said in a statement.

BOP issued the statement after HuffPost inquired about a death at the facility, which FBI’s Miami field office had earlier confirmed to HuffPost.

BOP’s statement said staffers tried to save Gonzalez’s life, but that he was pronounced dead by hospital staff on Sunday. Gonzalez, according to an official, was not on suicide watch but had been housed alone because he had previously threatened to harm any cellmate.

Hours after Gonzalez was found, the facility’s warden reminded BOP staffers that they were “required to conduct counts, rounds and watch calls in accordance with policy,” according to a message reviewed by HuffPost.

Miami’s Federal Detention Center, where 43-year-old Pedro Gonzalez was found dead.
Miami’s Federal Detention Center, where 43-year-old Pedro Gonzalez was found dead.

“Proper security rounds and conducting Official counts requires staff to observe living, breathing flesh, verifying that the inmate is breathing,” the warden’s message stated. “Movement of a limb alone, should not be considered as signs of life. Staff are reminded to be vigilant when conducting rounds in all Inmate occupied areas. Watch calls should be conducted every thirty minutes from the hours of 6:00 p.m. through 6:00 a.m. daily.”

Much like Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC New York), FDC Miami mainly holds pretrial detainees who have yet to be sentenced or those who have not yet been assigned a federal prison. The Miami facility, according to BOP’s website, was holding 1,008 people as of Monday.

USA Today reported last week that suicides were on the rise inside of federal facilities before Epstein’s death, with 27 federal inmates dying by suicide in the 2018 fiscal year, which was the largest number in five years. Federal statistics on American jail deaths have become significantly more outdated during the Trump administration.

HuffPost’s jail deaths project, which sought to track jail deaths across the country in the year after Sandra Bland died inside a Texas jail cell, found that jail suicides are almost always preventable. Suicide has been the leading cause of death inside American jails in every year they’ve been tracked since the turn of the century. In 2014, the last year in which federal data is available, an average of more than one person a day died of suicide inside an American jail.

Most BOP inmates are individuals serving out sentences in prisons, where suicides are less likely than they are in jails. Many smaller federal districts outsource their pretrial detention to local authorities, but there are a number of federal districts with their own pretrial detention facilities.

The news of the death at FDC Miami comes one week after Attorney General William Barr announced Hawk Sawyer as the BOP’s new director and Dr. Thomas R. Kane as deputy director. Several officials at MCC New York have been placed on leave, and the warden has been replaced.

Here’s BOP’s statement on Gonzalez’s death:

On Saturday, August 24, 2019, at approximately 6:45 p.m., inmate Pedro Gonzalez was found unresponsive in his cell in the Special Housing Unit at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) in Miami, Florida, from an apparent suicide.  Life-saving measures were initiated immediately by responding staff. Staff requested emergency medical services (EMS) and life-saving efforts continued.  Mr. Gonzalez was transported by EMS to a local hospital where he was subsequently pronounced dead by hospital staff on August 25, 2019.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Marshals Service were notified.  No staff or other inmates were injured and at no time was the public in danger.

Mr. Gonzalez was a 43-year-old male who arrived at FDC Miami on December 13, 2018, under pretrial status after being indicted for possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon.

FDC Miami is an administrative security facility that currently houses 1,016 male and female offenders in Miami, Florida.

This story has been updated with a statement from the Bureau of Prisons.

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