Ricardo Jones, a 31-year-old Florida man who wants to be a rapper, was meant to stay in the Scotland County jail for a short time. During a traffic stop, cops in the county found that he was wanted in his home state for drug charges.
Jones, who had four kids and was expecting a fifth, never went back to the Sunshine State. After he had been in jail for a week, his body was found on a mattress on the floor of a cell. A post-mortem examination showed that Jones was killed.
Jones’s family says they don’t understand why no one has been charged 10 months after he died. Jones was locked up in a small jail where inmates’ moves are supposed to be limited and where at least one security camera was pointed at his cell.
They want any inmates who had anything to do with Jones’ death to be charged. They also want the jail staff to be held responsible if they didn’t keep an eye out.
“I don’t want my son’s death to be in vain,” Celestine Mitchell, his mother, said. “I want my son’s death to help other people so that they don’t leave this world like he did.”
An review by the state Department of Health and Human Services found that inmates at the Scotland County jail, where Jones was held, were not closely watched as closely as they should have been.
So, his death is the fourth time in the last four years that state officials have found that detention officers in a county jail didn’t check on an inmate regularly in the hours before he or she died violently.
Killed While in Jail?
It’s not clear how Jones died. But public records give us some information.
A medical examiner’s report says that at noon on June 18, jail staff saw other inmates walk into Jones’ cell as seen on a security camera.
The report said that when jailers went into Jones’s cell, they found him sleeping on a mattress on the floor. He was wet from taking a shower. The story said that Jones said he didn’t need help.
When police “saw” that a lot of prisoners kept going into Jones’ cell, they went back. This time, Jones didn’t answer, so the police called for emergency medical workers.
When EMTs got there, Jones wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse. The autopsy found that he had been hit in the head with such force that he was fighting to stand, sweating a lot, and gasping for air, according to the report, which doesn’t say who saw Jones in that state.
The autopsy report said that his death was caused by problems that came up after he got into a fight with another jail inmate.
The medical examiner also found that Jones had sickle cell trait. This means that she had just one copy of the mutated gene that causes sickle cell disease, a problem that makes it hard for red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.
People with this trait often don’t know they have it, but sickled blood cells can be caused by hard physical work. In this case, the medical examiner found that this is what happened during “an altercation,” calling it one of the things that led to Jones’ death.
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Family Left in the Dark, They Say
Jones’ family hasn’t heard much from Sheriff Ralph Kersey, who runs the jail, or the State Bureau of Investigations agent who is looking into Jones’ death, they say. For example, they didn’t know that state officials found that the holding center didn’t check on people as often as they were supposed to while Jones was locked up there.
State jail rules say that jailers have to check on inmates at least twice every hour. It’s a rule that’s meant to keep both prisoners and staff safe. If a prisoner gets sick or hurt, jailers have a better chance of getting them out of jail. It also helps keep a facility under control so that inmates who want to hurt other people are less likely to attack.
Laurinburg’s 109-bed jail has electronic checkpoints that prison officers scan to prove they’ve done their security rounds. The DHHS report said that on the day before Jones was hit and killed, a detention officer failed to do these scans four times at one stop and twice at another that covered the unit where he was staying.
Corene Kendrick, who is the deputy head of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said that jailers need to do rounds regularly to keep jails in order.
Kendrick, whose group works to make jails and prisons safer, said, “You shouldn’t have a jail housing unit where people just come and go from each other’s cells and there are no officers watching.”
Jones’s mother said that she has been locked up before, so she knows what happens when jailers don’t check on people often.
Mitchell said, “When you know how officers work in a place, you have the power to do what you want.” “Because they didn’t do their jobs, the prisoners knew they had time to do whatever they wanted.”
Three weeks before Jones died at the Scotland County jail, another inmate, Robert Stamper Jr., 46, killed himself there soon after being admitted. Last year, a high number of people who were in jail in North Carolina died. He and Jones were among them.
The DHHS investigator found proof that needed checks were not done in the five hours before Stamper died.
Jones’ family has talked about a number of worries in interviews, and the lack of checks is one of them.
Jones’ uncle, Derek Ned, doesn’t think his nephew could have talked to the jail officers when they first checked on him.
Ned said, “If the medical examiner says he has a contusion and brain damage, he can’t tell someone he’s fine.”
He and Jones’ mother say that most of their calls to the police have been ignored. They said that Sheriff Kersey didn’t call them until three days after Jones’ death, when a news reporter from a TV station in Florence, S.C., interviewed them to find out what happened.
At that point, all the sheriff had said was that Jones had died and that the SBI was looking into it. His office hasn’t said yet that the death was caused by someone else.
The N&O asked Kersey for an interview, but he didn’t agree. The N&O also asked for an incident report and a video of what happened in the jail the day Jones died, but did not hear back. The SBI also did not answer when asked to speak.
People in charge of the Scotland County jail did tell the DHHS that needed checks were not done the night before Jones died or the day he died. During their rounds of the jail, the police carry devices that record where they make checks.
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The Jail Wants to Fix Problems With Control
Because of this, DHHS records show that a shift supervisor at the jail was downgraded. The sheriff’s office also said that more tracking devices would be bought for the jail so that all jailers would have them when making rounds.
The district attorney for Scotland County, Reece Saunders, stated that the SBI was sent to look into Jones’ death and gave a few details about Jones’ arrest. He brought up North Carolina State Bar rules that says lawyers can only talk about open cases so little as to avoid making statements that could hurt the case.
If the criminal investigation backs up the autopsy report, Jones would be the fourth person to die in a North Carolina jail because of a fight with another inmate in the last four years.
In 2019, two people who were in jail died after being hit by other inmates. One was in the Cleveland County jail and the other was in the Craven County jail. The next year, a jail inmate died after being attacked, according to officers. In the other deaths, the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said that the jails did not check on the inmates enough.
Jeffery Todd Dunn’s family sued the sheriff and a few of his workers after he died in jail. In 2021, they reached a deal out of court that gave them $347,500.
Ricardo Jones was raised near Fort Myers. His family said that he was a running back in high school and got some college interest, but that chance went away when one of his girlfriends got pregnant soon after he finished.
Jones worked strange jobs to pay child support, but he also tried to make it as a rapper under the name “Shotta Suppa.”
His family said that he found out he was a father for the fifth time while he was in jail in Scotland.
Mitchell said that in February, a boy named Ricki became the fifth child.
So, she said, he will have to grow up without a father.
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