Thirteen men died after going to the Allegheny County Jail. Here are their stories

Families reported a lack of notification and communication from jail administrators

By: - Tuesday March 15, 2022 6:30 am

Thirteen men died after going to the Allegheny County Jail. Here are their stories

Families reported a lack of notification and communication from jail administrators

By: - 6:30 am

Allegheny County Jail (Image via Pittsburgh City Paper)

Allegheny County Jail (Image via Pittsburgh City Paper)

(*Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three-part series by the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. This series will run for the next three days in the pages of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Updated at 8:31 p.m., Tuesday 3/15/22: Justin Brady and Paul Spisak died at Allegheny General Hospital, according to their family members. A previous version of this story listed UPMC Mercy as their place of death.)

By Brittany Hailer

PITTSBURGH — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, 13 men incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail have died, the most recent, a 26-year-old who collapsed and called out for help on March 6.

Some have died inside the jail walls, while others, like the most recent victim, died at UPMC Mercy after being transported there following health problems or unspecified “incidents” at the jail. Just one was reported to have died from COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

The 13 deaths are the total number that have been confirmed through reporting and research by the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. No women have died on record in the two years of our investigation. But, because that reporting has revealed that not all jail deaths are reported publicly, and the jail doesn’t “count” deaths after men are released to the hospital, the total could be higher.

Allegheny County Jail spokesperson Jesse Geleynse explained in an email that incarcerated persons who get a medical release are not included in the jail’s death statistics. Only 10 incarcerated people have died in the jail’s custody since April 2020, according to Geleynse. That total doesn’t include three men who were transferred from the jail to the hospital, given medical releases, and later died.

The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism paid particular attention to the jail throughout the pandemic, as virus mitigation forced incarcerated individuals to remain in their cells for 23 hours a day, illness and staff shortages among incarcerated kitchen workers caused meals to be limited at times to baloney sandwiches prompting an investigation by the County Controller, and severe staff shortages in the medical and mental health staffs reduced treatments and programs for the incarcerated.

Staff shortages have recently come under fire by Brian Englert, president of the jail guards union, who has stated publicly that facility-wide staff shortages make it difficult for those on the job to perform their duties safely. The warden’s report submitted to Allegheny County’s Jail Oversight Board this month reported 53 healthcare staff vacancies. However, the jail has issued press releases with plans to reopen the jail to visitors, and allow for more recreation time.

Since April 2020, shortly after the start of the pandemic, the jail has housed an average of around 1,700 incarcerated persons daily. Over 900 incarcerated persons were released as the country locked down, and the county has managed to keep the population down since.

As of publication, the jail housed around 1,600 incarcerated persons. Prior to the pandemic, the jail housed, on average, around 2,500 incarcerated persons.

Following seven deaths reported in 2014, and another four in 2015, the county cut ties with then medical provider Corizon Health , and Allegheny Health Network took over as the jail’s primary health-care provider. From 2016-2019, the jail reported three or fewer deaths per year.

And now that the population has decreased, the jail is reporting a higher number of casualties per year. Five deaths occurred in 2020. Six deaths took place in 2021, with three happening in September. Two men have died in 2022. The majority of the men who died had not been convicted of a crime and were awaiting trial.

This reporter has worked for nearly two years to gather the stories of the 13 men who have died following their incarceration at the Allegheny County Jail.

Through interviews with families, jail and county officials, Right-to-Know requests, jail and medical records, a story emerges: Families report lack of notification and communication from jail administrators, and the men who died struggled with mental illness, substance use disorder and other medical conditions before they crossed the threshold of the jail. Four men who died were hospitalized within hours of their incarceration.

One man died of suicide, another was found unconscious on the jail’s acute mental health and suicide watch unit, with food lodged in his throat. Three men were over the age of 60. Another man was transferred from the hospital to the jail after crashing a car and telling police he had suffered from a stroke days earlier.

Other families report their loved ones being hospitalized for days before the family was notified. Two families report that emergency medical decisions, including brain surgery, were made without consulting them for their permission.

Some of the men’s stories have more information in the timeline constructed as a result of the due-diligence and help of their loved ones requesting autopsy reports, medical records and jail records. But because there are roadblocks for information other stories are more sparse.

“All deaths are tragic, and we sympathize with the grieving families,” Geleynse wrote in his email.

Geleynse explained corrections and medical staff do everything “humanly possible” to keep the incarcerated alive, and many people come to the jail with pre-existing medical conditions and addictions that put them at risk.

“We also recognize that death is an inevitable part of life. It’s unrealistic to expect that no deaths would occur at the jail,” Gelenyse wrote.

Content warning: These stories include events and topics that may be harmful to certain readers. 

Richard Lenhart, 49, died April 11, 2020

About a month after the jail went into lockdown following the mid-March outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lenhart was found unresponsive in his cell around midday. Jail medical staff performed CPR on Lenhart until paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead in his cell.

Jail officials said his death was not related to COVID-19. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner determined Lehhart’s cause of death was atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Lenhart had been charged with burglary, trespassing, receiving stolen property, access device fraud, theft, and a traffic violation. On March 4, 2020, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve six to 12 months in the county jail, plus two years’ probation. He died just 38 days after entering his plea deal.

Robert Blake, 36, died May 24, 2020

Just days before Robert Blake was found hanged in his cell, he had been in solitary confinement.

It’s unclear when Blake was transferred from solitary to the general population unit where he suspended himself with his uniform.

He was pronounced dead at the jail shortly after 5 p.m on May 24, 2020, according to the medical examiner who ruled his death a suicide. Blake was in jail on a probation violation for cashing bad checks.

Allegheny County Police opened an investigation into what happened to Blake, but those findings have not yet been made public or presented to the Jail Oversight Board.

Cody Still, 29, died October 1, 2020

Cody Still struggled with substance use disorder.

His father Randy Still, said his son, who went by the nickname “Smiley,” couldn’t seem to get out from under his addiction and he’d steal in order to support his habit. “Other than that, he was a good kid. He would do anything for anybody. Everyone seemed to like him. He had a lot of friends,” Randy Still said.

(Cody Still, 29, courtesy of Randy Still.)

Randy Still worried about his son, but saw him often. The father last saw his son several days before he was charged with the burglary that landed him in the county jail. His docket shows he was housed in the jail on Sept. 19, 2020.

The medical examiner said Cody Still died following a Sept. 20 incident at the jail. County spokeswoman Amie Downs told the Post-Gazette that Cody Still was taken to the hospital for a suspected overdose that same day.

The jail did not notify Randy Still of his son’s hospitalization until eight days after Cody Still was transferred to the hospital, according to internal jail emails obtained by PINJ. In that time, Cody Still had suffered two strokes, undergone brain surgery, and was in a coma, Randy Still said.

“[Former Deputy Warden] Laura Williams called me and told me he was hospitalized. She said, ‘Your son was in jail and he is in hospital and he went through brain surgery yesterday.’ What! Why hasn’t anyone contacted me? Why didn’t they get in touch with me for major surgery?,” Randy Still said.

After an emergency visitation was granted by a judge, Randy Still went immediately to the hospital, desperate to see his son and ask him what happened. It turned out he could speak only to the doctors.

“He was conscious when he went to UPMC Mercy. He had a stroke and he was still himself, so to speak. And the second blood clot that went into his brain, that’s the one that did him in. I never got to speak to him,” Randy Still said.

Several days later the family made the decision to take Cody Still off life support and he died.

(Cody Still, 29. Photo Courtesy of Randy Still.)

The medical examiner determined that “central brain herniation due to mycotic aneurysm, bacterial endocarditis, and IV drug use” caused Cody Still’s death.

But Randy Still has questions. He wants to know what caused the physical trauma described in his son’s autopsy report. His son had no bruises on his body when he last saw him.

According to the report: “The body shows the following evidence of recent physical injury” and lists 20 abrasions and contusions on Cody Still’s body, including his legs, thighs, chest, arms, shoulders, back and flanks. Cody Still’s larger bruises were in differing stages of healing and ranged in size from 6 cm to 9 cm in size.

Although Cody Still was an intravenous drug user, “no fresh needle marks are noted,” according to the autopsy report.

“He was in the hospital for about a week–by himself that’s what really gets to me,” Randy Still said.” We could have been by his side. They didn’t want him to be able to talk. That’s what goes through my head. I honestly believe something happened.”

The jail has not provided Randy Still with his son’s medical records.

John Brady, 40, died November 20, 2020

PINJ learned of John Brady’s death after his sister, Kelly Brady, called to tell the story of her brother. Kelly Brady wanted the public to know her brother died after he was found unconscious and not breathing in intake at the Allegheny County Jail.

Jail officials had not reported his death to the Jail Oversight Board or the public. After PINJ published an investigation into John Brady’s death, former Deputy Warden Williams said during an October 2021 JOB meeting that incarcerated persons released due to critical illness are “no longer on our count” and therefore not reported to the public or the oversight board. Because Brady was released from custody, the jail did not report his death.

(John Brady, 40. Photo courtesy of Kelly Brady.)

He was booked at the jail around 4 a.m. on Nov. 20, 2022, charged with driving under the influence. His intake evaluation at 7:30 a.m. showed he appeared intoxicated and anxious, but he was medically cleared for incarceration. His toxicology urine screening listed opiates, oxycodone and methadone present in his system.

Around 5 p.m., he was given the medications loperamide, promethazine, clonidine, and hydroxyzine to help manage the side effects of detoxification, according to his medical records obtained by his family.

At 8:15 p.m., John Brady was found unresponsive in his intake cell.

Correctional officers performed CPR on him until medical staff arrived and administered naloxone, a drug that can treat an opioid overdose in emergency situations. John Brady never regained consciousness.

He was transferred to UPMC Mercy and placed on a ventilator, records show. He remained on a ventilator for 10 days without recovering before his mother said she signed the papers for removal.

Jail records and family interviews show that John Brady was at UPMC Mercy and had been in respiratory failure for 15 hours when his mother, Patricia Cross, spoke with former Deputy Warden Williams. Cross missed the first message from Williams and by the time the two connected, Williams told Cross her son was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at the hospital.

When Kelly Brady arrived at UPMC Mercy, doctors informed her that her brother was, “effectively brain dead” and that he had been, “deprived of oxygen for a sustained amount of time.”

According to the autopsy report, John Brady was admitted to UPMC Mercy, “for anoxic brain injury following cardiac arrest.” The report said he died “as a result of complications of opioid toxicity. Pulmonary hypertension contributed to his demise.”

Kelly Brady said her and her mother’s questions surrounding his death have gone unanswered and the family is hurt and angered by the jail’s lack of communication

“The doctors at Mercy told me he had been without oxygen for 15 to 20 minutes,” Kelly Brady said. “He was housed in intake with all those people around. How does this happen?”

Daniel Pastorek, 63, died November 26, 2020

Daniel Pastorek lived in Natrona Heights where he cycled in and out of homeless shelters. His brother Michael Pastorek said Daniel struggled with alcoholism as a result of his schizophrenia, but that he was a kind and gentle soul.

Michael Pastorek said his brother lived in fear of local police and government and grew paranoid that he’d be put in jail for a minor offense. It appears he had reason to be worried.

Once, Daniel Pastorek was arrested for jaywalking when he followed a stray cat across the street. In 2019, he was cited twice for public drunkenness, then cited again for hitchhiking. He accrued more than $1,000.00 in fines. When he failed to keep up with the payment plan set by the magistrate’s office, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

On March 16, 2020, eight months before Daniel Pastorek would be found unconscious in his cell, Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus granted him a release. He was among about 900 incarcerated individuals to be released to reduce the jail’s population at the onset of the pandemic.

Upon his release, Public Defender Matthew Dugan submitted an affidavit of indigency on Daniel Pastorek’s behalf because he was living in poverty and “unable to pay the fees and costs on appeal.”  Dugan also filed an appeal to the 90-day sentence imposed for public drunkenness by Magisterial District Judge Carolyn S. Bengel. Daniel Pastorek was scheduled for his summary appeal hearing on June 10, 2020.

When Daniel Pastorek failed to appear at his appeal hearing, another warrant was issued. He was ordered to serve another 90 days in the Allegheny County Jail. According to his brother, Daniel Pastorek missed his hearing because he fell and broke his foot.

He was arrested again and booked back into the jail on Nov. 7, 2020.

Incarcerated persons reported to the PINJ that Daniel Pastorek had a foot or leg injury and had to use a walker when he arrived. He seemed ill. According to Daniel Pastorek’s jail records, he was housed as of November 11, 2020 in a temporary housing unit for men who are acutely suicidal. Incarcerated persons housed in that unit at that time said that Daniel Pastorek cried out from his cell for days and was ignored. He complained of chest pains, vomited, and seemed disoriented. They said he died lying on the floor of his cell.

He survived 19 days in the jail before dying on Thanksgiving Day

The medical examiner determined that Daniel Pastorek died of natural causes as a result of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Martin Bucek, 55, died July 3, 2021

Martin Bucek suffered from bipolar disorder. From 2005, he experienced peaks and valleys. He’d pop up to call his ex-wife Dolly Bucek and inquire about their son Justin, 30, who has spina bifida, then he’d disappear again when he stopped taking his medication. He changed phone numbers often because he had trouble keeping up with bills. When he was stable and medicated he would send gifts to his son. Dolly Bucek described him as “kind and generous,” with a “dad sense of humor.”

“My father loved me,” Justin Bucek said.

(Dolly and Justin Bucek. Photo by Brittany Hailer)

On June 22, 2021, while en route to St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon during a mental health crisis, Martin Bucek became violent inside the ambulance and a police escort was called. He told paramedics that he had attempted suicide. He had lacerations on his wrists. He said he wanted to be admitted to the psychiatric unit, according to his St. Clair medical records, which were obtained by Dolly Bucek.

The St. Clair records also show that Martin Bucek attempted to hang himself with his bed sheets and “all bed sheets were removed from the room.” Sometime later, he grabbed a nurse’s shoulders, according to the narrative arrest affidavit filed in court. The nurse was able to push Martin Bucek against a wall, but “Bucek repeatedly tried to grab her at the throat but was unsuccessful,” according to the affidavit.

After the altercation with the nurse, Martin Bucek was put in restraints, in which he remained until midnight. St. Clair tried contacting his Community Treatment Team, or CTT. For years, Martin Bucek was in the care of a CTT, a program through UPMC Western Psych that provides outreach and community-based mental health services to individuals with serious mental illnesses. Routinely, the CTT saw him twice a day to bring him his medications.

A member of the CTT said that, in the weeks prior to being taken to St. Clair Hospital, Martin Bucek called EMS frequently and was seeking hospital admission. The night before his arrest at St. Clair, he had arrived at Western Psych with wrist lacerations, but was sent home, according to records.

Martin Bucek’s treatment team recommended that he be discharged from St. Clair

St. Clair hospital planned to involuntarily commit Martin Bucek, but, according to his record, his CTT advised against it. The CTT supported filing charges against Martin Bucek and transporting him to the jail. The CTT psychiatrists advised, “[we] feel the appropriate care for him would be to go to the jail and hopefully then to Torrance [State Hospital],” according to medical records. Torrance State Hospital provides treatment to people with mental illness who have been charged with a crime.

On June 23, 2021, Martin Bucek was transported to the jail. Martin Bucek never made it to the state hospital. On July 3, Martin Bucek, was found face down on a mattress in the suicide prevention unit of the jail. He was then transferred to UPMC Mercy, which the medical examiner lists as his place of death at 5:58 p.m., that same day.

Incarcerated persons at the Allegheny County Jail called PINJ a few days later to report that a man died in the jail’s acute mental health unit and the jail didn’t report it. They alleged the man had died after choking on a wad of food. Some claimed that he’d done it on purpose.

According to Martin Bucek’s Death in Custody report, “Mouth and airway attempted to be cleared due to evidence of grayish matter. CPR was initiated and defibrillator applied.”

Medical records also state: “Reportedly has been eating and may have choked prior to going into [cardiac] arrest. Medics state [patient] may have been down longer than they were told.”

The medical examiner ruled Martin Bucek’s cause of death as asphyxia due to airway obstruction by food. The manner of his death was ruled an accident.

However, before Martin Bucek’s autopsy was completed, former Deputy Warden Williams told the Jail Oversight Board in August 2021, “We can confirm [Martin Bucek] was held on … the acute mental health unit. We can indicate that it was not ruled to be a suicide at all.”

“He was suicidal,” Dolly Bucek said. ”He’d slit his wrists and he must have been off his meds. He never should have been sent to that jail. He should have been kept at a hospital or mental health facility … I will not give up until I find answers. I am going to fight for all the other families. They’re human beings and the jail administration needs to know that.”

Robert Harper, 48, died September 12, 2021

Robert Harper’s death is the only COVID-19 fatality reported by the county jail.

He had spent much of his life behind bars, said Sheila Harper, his wife of 20 years. She described him as silly and with a boyish sense about him. People called him “LB,” for Little Bobby.

She said her husband was incarcerated for the first time at a young age, and when he was first released, the system had not prepared him for life outside of jail. He fell into the same old habits, with the same friends and family that had gotten him into trouble before. He participated in a robbery with a family member and that’s what landed him back in jail, she said.

He was awaiting trial on charges linked to the robbery when he contracted COVID-19 in August 2021.

He called his wife on Aug. 16 to tell her of his diagnosis. He complained of pain and discomfort. “He wanted me to call the jail to give him something for the pain. He was struggling to breathe,” Sheila Harper said. That was the last time she ever heard his voice.

Twelve days later she received word from former Deputy Warden Williams that her husband’s condition had deteriorated and he was hospitalized. The next day she received a phone call from Allegheny General Hospital. She was told he had been in intensive care for 10 days.

By September 5, 2021, Robert Harper was on a ventilator and in congestive heart failure, according to Sheila Harper. She questioned who made the decision to place her husband on a ventilator as she had not been contacted.

(Robert Harper and his wife, Sheila Harper. Photo courtesy if Sheila Harper.)

On Sept. 11, she was contacted by Williams, who informed her that her husband was not expected to live through the night. Sheila Harper was permitted to visit her husband after nearly a month of his hospitalization. She said staff started an egg timer and she was permitted five minutes to say goodbye. She prayed for her husband through a glass window in the door to his room.

“I actually slept in the car in the parking lot because I couldn’t believe it,” Sheila Harper said. “He died on a ventilator in handcuffs.”

The jail has not provided Sheila Harper with Robert Harper’s medical records.

Vinckley Harris, 48, died September 20, 2021

Vinckley Harris was charged with access device fraud, criminal conspiracy and theft from a motor vehicle. Detectives believe he was the man who used a stolen credit card at a Speedway gas station, where he bought a pack of cigarettes and a Visa gift card, totaling $113, according to court records.

Harris was found unresponsive in the jail’s intake area while awaiting arraignment on theft charges Sept. 17, 2021. He was not committed to the jail, according to an email sent from Warden Orlando Harper to the Jail Oversight Board.

On the same day he was booked, Harris “was witnessed inside a holding cell in intake having seizures. He was seen by a healthcare provider who determined he needed to go to the hospital for further treatment and evaluation,” according to the jail’s Death in Custody Report on Harris.

Harris died at UPMC Mercy hospital on Sept. 20, 2021, three days following his incarceration. According to the medical examiner, Harris’ cause of death was hemorrhagic shock, and the death was ruled an accident.

Justin Brady, 38, died September 23, 2021

Justin Brady entered the jail on Sept. 17, 2021–the same day as Vinckley Harris, and, like Harris, Justin Brady fell ill in intake and was transferred to UPMC Mercy.

“While still in intake on the morning of September 18, [Justin Brady] advised medical that he was detoxing from multiple drugs. As a result, he was transported to a local hospital [UPMC Mercy] for treatment. He did not return to the facility,” jail administrators wrote to the Jail Oversight Board in an email.

According to his Death in Custody report, he “was witnessed vomiting in a holding cell in our Intake Department … was treated by Healthcare professionals.”

On Sept. 23, Justin Brady died of acute bilateral aspiration pneumonia at UPMC Mercy, according to the county medical examiner. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when liquids, food or vomit is breathed into airways that lead to the lungs.

Justin Brady is the second Brady family member to die at the Allegheny County Jail. His first cousin, John Brady died in November 2020, and the jail failed to notify the public or the Jail Oversight Board. Like Justin Brady, John Brady experienced a medical emergency after entering the jail’s intake.

Paul Allen, 55, died October 9, 2021

Just days before his incarceration, Paul Allen was hospitalized at UPMC Mercy.

On Sept 8, 2021, Allen rear-ended a parked car in Wilkinsburg. The woman who owned the car called the police and said a man driving a gray sedan hit her car. Wilkinsburg Police Officer Christopher Duncan got the call for a “hit and run in progress,” according to his police affidavit.

Duncan spotted Allen driving a gray car, stopped him and took him into custody.

“It should be noted that I inquired from Allen if he required medical attention and he stated to me ‘I’ve been drinking’ and that he recently suffered from a stroke,” Duncan wrote in the arrest record.

Sometime later, according to Ducan’s account, emergency medics assessed Allen and transferred him to UPMC Mercy for medical treatment.

The Wilkinsburg Police Department requested a search warrant to obtain Allen’s blood at the hospital. Allen was then charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and of driving while operating privileges were suspended.

He was booked at the Allegheny County Jail on Sept. 11.

On Oct. 9 he was taken to UPMC Mercy for a medical incident.

“Paul Allen hit his call button and alerted the Pod Officer that he could not breath.  The Officer called a medical emergency.  Healthcare team responded quickly and provided treatment.  He was transported to our Medical Housing Unit, where they continued to provide treatment,” according to Allen’s Death in Custody report.

Jail medical staff called 911 and Allen was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to an email sent from Warden Harper to the Jail Oversight Board.

Paul Allen died of bronchial asthma, according to the county medical examiner.

Roger Millspaugh, 74, died December 22, 2021

Roger Millspaugh was facing child pornography charges when he died.

He was found unresponsive during “medication pass” on the jail’s medical housing unit, according to an email from jail administrators to the Jail Oversight Board. CPR was conducted by the jail’s healthcare department, but Millspaugh was declared deceased at 4:34 p.m., according to the email.

Millspaugh’s cause of death was atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, according to the medical examiner.

Paul Spisak, 77, died January 28, 2022

Paul Spisak, a former Catholic priest who was named in the state’s 2018 grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse, died at UPMC Mercy Hospital following an incident that left him unresponsive in his cell on Jan. 22, 2022.

The jail has not provided any details about the incident that resulted in Spisak’s condition.

Spisak was committed to the Allegheny County Jail on Jan. 4 for an invasion of privacy charge and a probation violation. He was accused of taking a video of a 13-year-old inside a Target store bathroom.

Jesse Geleynse, spokesperson for the Allegheny County Jail, said Spisak was found unresponsive in his cell on Jan 22, but was “alert and stable after response by the medical team” before he was transported to the hospital.

“The hospital advised that he had numerous medical complications and recommended that next of kin was notified and engaged in treatment and care conversations with the hospital,” said Geleynse in an email.

The court released Spisak from the custody of the jail on Jan. 28 due to his deteriorating medical condition. The Jail Oversight Board was not notified of Spisak’s release or the incident that resulted in a medical transfer. The Jail Oversight Board was also not notified of Spisak’s death. The jail released information after media reports made Spisak’s death public.

Gerald Thomas, 26, died March 6, 2022

Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani refused to release Gerald Thomas from jail on Feb. 17 even though evidence that led to his probation violation case was successfully suppressed and his charges were dropped.

Thomas was pulled over by undercover police after failing to stop at a stop sign in the Hill District on March 30, 2021 according to court transcripts. The police searched his car without a warrant. Thomas was charged with illegal gun possession, receiving stolen property and possession of marijuana.

The charges were later withdrawn by the district attorney’s office after the search of his car was deemed illegal.

Mariani concluded in court that Thomas would remain in jail and allowed the parties to file briefs on the evidence issue.  He addressed Thomas in court, “I don’t want to see you dead in the street on Friday or any other day of the week, but you won’t quit. I have to put you in the cage, lasso you, corral you, stuff you because you won’t quit.”

Thomas was dead less than a month later anyway. He collapsed after exiting his cell on March 6 and died at 2 p.m. that day at UPMC Mercy.

Warden Harper informed the Jail Oversight Board of the death in an email. “Shortly after noon, a male in his 20s was exiting his cell when he asked other inmates for assistance before collapsing. A medical emergency was called, and lifesaving measures were performed until medical arrived on the unit,” Harper wrote.

Paramedics arrived on the scene and “took over compressions and were able to get a pulse for the person, after which the individual was transported to the hospital,” the email said.

Shortly after 2:00 p.m., “the hospital notified the jail that the individual had passed,” according to Harper’s email.

Thomas’ family held a press conference at Lighthouse Church in Pittsburgh on March 7. Gerald Thomas’ aunt Diane, who declined to share her last name, said her nephew was “a bright young man” with a “bright future ahead of him.” The Thomas family was not notified by the jail of his medical emergency and subsequent hospitalization, Diane said.

(Thomas Family at Lighthouse Church following Gerald Thomas’ death. Photo by Brittany Hailer.)

An incarcerated individual contacted the Thomas family and reported that Thomas had collapsed, hit his head and was unresponsive.

The family immediately called the jail but they were not given information about where Thomas was hospitalized or his condition, Diane said in the conference. County officials said the Thomas family went to the jail and met with the warden inside the facility. The family maintains that no details surrounding the death were provided and his mother was not permitted to see her son’s body at the hospital.

The medical examiner has not yet released a cause of death.

Brittany Hailer is editor and co-founder of the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Special to the Capital-Star
Special to the Capital-Star

The latest and best in state and national coverage from our content partners and sites across the States Newsroom network.