Lawrence Michael “Jake” Spies Jr. died on Sept. 19, 2015, at the El Dorado County Jail in Placerville, California, at the age of 34. Spies, who suffered from anxiety and depression with suicidal tendencies, was taken into custody for allegedly driving under the influence and making threats to neighbors. His parents said they only needed to post $2,000 bail to release him, but Jake was dead before they had the chance -- he was found hanging in his cell less than a day after his arrest. His mother, Linda Spies, talked to The Huffington Post as part of our ongoing series of stories about deaths in jails across the country.
As told to Mercy Yang.
“We had two sheriffs come to our door at 11 p.m. Saturday night. They walked in and asked us if Lawrence is our son. We said ‘yes,’ and they asked us to sit down. They said, ‘Your son is dead.’ And just the words ― the way they came out of their mouths like that. I just will never forget it. They said it so cold.
I guess they found him in his cell when they brought him dinner at 4:50 p.m., and they came to our house at 11 that night. But on the jail report, which we requested, it said ‘When was the last time you observed this person?’ or something like that, and it said ‘Unknown.’ So that just tells me that they never checked on him. Somebody who knows this kind of stuff told me that he had to have tried really hard to do what he did. So nobody was checking on him. And if someone’s on suicide watch and no one’s checking on this person, and they’re in a room all by themselves ― something’s not right there.
He had chronic suicide ideation. It was really on his mind a lot, and all he needed was the right opportunity to come along. That’s what happened that night. The opportunity came along, and we didn’t have any option to be able to help him, to be able to save him. If we had bailed him out, this wouldn’t have happened. My husband and my son are having a hard time living like that, thinking about if we had bailed him out. We thought he was safe, and we would have bailed him out in a heartbeat if we thought he was in any danger.
“He had chronic suicide ideation. It was really on his mind a lot, and all he needed was the right opportunity to come along.”
People who are in jail are not always criminals. My son was not a criminal. He was having trouble with the law, but it was because of what he was doing to himself and his own mental health issues, not because he was a hardened criminal. He was having different kinds of problems, but he didn’t deserve that. We just didn’t know how to help him. We struggled and struggled and struggled. We didn’t know where to go, and we didn’t know what to do. Why was there not a big red flag that went off on their computer as soon as they entered his name that said, ‘Hey, this dude tried to commit suicide in our jail already once’? I mean, why did they not know that?
He needed help. He didn’t need to be in jail. He said, ‘I’d rather die than be in jail.’ He was so afraid of jail. He was really kind of a little timid, in a way. He was afraid of the guys in jail. Jail scared him to death.
I absolutely totally blame the El Dorado County sheriff, because if they had listened to me and if they had done what they should have done and taken it seriously, he wouldn’t have been alone. He would’ve been on suicide watch. Someone would’ve been watching him. He never should’ve had the time or the materials to do what he did. All we needed was a little time to get him out of there so we could figure out how to get him some true help. But they took that opportunity away from us.
“I just don’t understand why it had to end this way. I just don’t understand why nobody listened to me.”
The main thing about Jake was that he was too sensitive for his own good. He had a very sensitive heart. He took things really hard, really personally. I just don’t ever want this to happen to another kid out there. We just never, ever thought it would end this way. We always had hope for him, even though he didn’t. We just knew he had to get to some point in his life where something would make him happy and he could make a U-turn from the direction he was going.
I don’t know what it would take to impress upon them that this stuff is serious and my son never should’ve died that night. Because he wasn’t a criminal. He needed help. He didn’t need to be in jail. I understand, you know, why he was in jail. I just don’t understand why it had to end this way. I just don’t understand why nobody listened to me.
I just hope that El Dorado County knows this. That it affects them. It would be nice to know that it upset them. It’d be nice to know that they’re human and they didn’t want that to happen. But I don’t know. It was just so cold. They don’t treat people like they’re human beings ― valued, loving, loved human beings.”
El Dorado County Jail declined to comment, and said that the California Public Records law does not require the agency to release any records on Spies’ case.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.