- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A New Orleans City Council hearing on the suicide of a 15-year-old jail inmate raised questions about why he wasn’t under closer surveillance and why he spent nearly a month in jail before he had a bond hearing.

Jaquin Thomas was in the jail because he faced an adult charge, second-degree murder. Authorities said the teen and a 34-year-old cousin were arrested after a July burglary and killing. Thomas hanged himself with a mattress cover on Oct. 17.

A jail attorney said Thomas was being held in a tier where all inmates were under 18 and that Thomas had shown no suicidal tendencies. Blake Arcuri told council members that the suicide was captured by a surveillance camera. But he said it was a distant view, and he didn’t know whether the camera was being monitored at the time.

Council member Susan Guidry later said jail officials should consider closer monitoring, saying suicide rates among youthful inmates in adult lockups are high.

Arcuri confirmed that Thomas had been hurt in a fight with a 16-year-old armed robbery suspect, but that investigators don’t think that was a factor in the suicide, which happened weeks later.

Jeanine McNeal, who testified with family members and said she raised Thomas’ sister, told council members she was disturbed when she visited Thomas days before the suicide.

“He had a problem with people taking his food. He was being intimidated. He was scared,” McNeal told council members.

Two city judges, the director of an agency that defends young suspects, an assistant district attorney and the court-approved appointee recently tasked with improving conditions at the jail all took part in the hearing by the council’s Criminal Justice Committee.

Nobody was quite certain why, according to court records, Thomas’s first court appearance was Aug. 24, nearly a month after he was arrested July 28 and sent from a juvenile facility to the jail.

But better procedures for handling youthful offenders in court wouldn’t necessarily have prevented Thomas’s death, said Aaron Clark-Rizzio, director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. “The best way we could have protected this child is to not have moved him to the adult facility,” Clark-Rizzio said.

The city’s juvenile detention center, the Youth Study Center, has 12 beds set aside for youthful suspects facing trial in the adult system. Charles West, of the mayor’s office, said expansion of the center is planned, with more space for such inmates.

Also Tuesday, court appointed monitors filed their latest report on reform efforts at the jail. And it reads much like past reports, citing a “troubling” lack of compliance with reforms aimed at preventing inmate harm from suicide and helping inmates with mental illness.

Tuesday’s report was filed in federal court, where Sheriff Marlin Gusman reached a 2012 agreement to improve jail conditions to settle a lawsuit by inmate advocates and the Justice Department.

The report said monitors are eager to start working with Gary Maynard, the former Maryland corrections official tapped as the jail’s new “compliance director,” with broad management authority at the jail.

Maynard started Oct. 1.

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