VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Sheriff’s office officials say an inmate at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center died by suicide Sunday morning while in custody.
A deputy was doing a routine security check just after midnight Sunday, Aug. 9 when they found 50-year-old Carlton Lee Lawson unresponsive in his cell.
The deputy immediately started rescue efforts. Lawson also received medical attention from jail medical staff, the Virginia Beach Fire Department and Virginia Beach Emergency Medical Services, but he was pronounced dead just before 1 a.m., the sheriff’s office wrote in a news release.
The sheriff’s office said this is the first suicide death in custody in 10 years.
Lawson was taken into custody and booked at the correctional center on July 29 on two charges, felony driving while intoxicated (third conviction in 10 years) and misdemeanor driving without a license, the release said.
When booked at the jail, Lawson was given a medical and mental health screening and placed on observation for detoxification. He completed the detox period Aug. 3 and was then moved into a cell without a roommate, where is where he was when he died.
The sheriff’s office said none of those screenings indicated Lawson had suicidal ideations.
All in-custody deaths are investigated by the Virginia Beach Police Department and Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office.
The death has also been reported to the Virginia Department of Corrections, the agency that reviews all in-custody deaths. The VDOC can also investigate if it chooses to do so.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Norfolk will determine the official cause and manner of death.
The sheriff’s office said it has several suicide-prevention measures in place, including direct observation rooms for those at-risk of suicide, training deputies in crisis intervention, and making sure inmates aren’t housed alone.
The mental health screenings include the following questions:
- Do you feel depressed at this time?
- Do you have anything to look forward to in the immediate future?
- Have you recently experienced a significant loss?
- Are you thinking of hurting or killing yourself?
- Have you considered suicide in the last 3 months?
- Have you ever attempted suicide?
- Has a family member/close friend every attempted or committed suicide?
In 2019, deputies intervened in 14 inmate suicide attempts. The last in-custody death by suicide at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center was in March 2010.
“Unfortunately, one of the most difficult challenges we face is how to protect people from themselves,” Sheriff Ken Stolle said in a prepared statement in the news release. “As we know too well, those most intent on harming themselves often show no signs until it is too late. That was the case with Carlton Lawson, who gave us no indication that he was suicidal. Still, one death by suicide is one death too many. I never want anyone to die in this jail and I do everything in my power to prevent that from happening. I am fully investigating this incident and I am requesting that the Department of Corrections do so as well. My heart goes out to the Lawson family for their tragic loss.”
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