Chatham Co. sheriff provides update on 4 inmate deaths in 2016

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - A news conference was held Tuesday afternoon at the Chatham County Sheriff's Office to discuss the recent findings of four inmate deaths at the jail from 2016.

Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher called Tuesday's news conference, as part of his promise to be transparent with the community. He says three of the deaths were determined to be from natural causes and one was a suicide.

"Three of them were natural causes and one was suicide," said Wilcher.

Wilcher says the cause of death was either determined by the county coroner or GBI.

Natural deaths happen every day, but in this case, it may seem suspicious to others. Sheriff Wilcher says proper steps are taken when an inmate is brought to the jail.

"When they come in the back door, they're assessed at the back door. If they don't meet the criteria to come in the jail we make the agencies taken them to a hospital and get them cleared by a medical doctor, not an EMT," said Sheriff Wilcher.

Even if jail workers are following all the rules when it comes to inmates, Sheriff Wilcher feels there are still some things able to slip through the cracks.

"When you have 1,700 inmates and I've got 72 officers watching them on a shift, it's hard to watch each individual inmate and tell what he or she is going to do," he said.

To try and keep a hold on what's going on, Sheriff Wilcher says he has requested 17 padded cells.

"These are for mental health patients that want to harm themselves, that will bang their head against the door. So, we put them in a rubber cell and give them what is known as a smock, you take all their clothes except a smock," said Sheriff Wilcher.

Right now, the sheriff says his department is understaffed but they're doing the best they can.

"A lot of people who come to jail, come here in bad, bad shape. A lot of people leave better than they left here," Sheriff Wilcher said.

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