Monday, January 19, 2009

Ex-Cop Christopher Cole Committs Suicide in Jail Wasn't Placed on Suicide Watch

An ongoing feud between Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Sheriff Warren Evans continues to intensify and has caught in its cross fire the family of a jail inmate who committed suicide.

Christopher Cole, an ex-Detroit cop with a controversial past, wasn't placed on a suicide watch at the Wayne County Jail when he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after a crash that left another man in a coma, despite claims by others that he warned that he would kill himself.

Evans' staff says the county's mental health staff assesses the needs of inmates during the intake process and should have detected suicidal tendencies. Ficano's staff counters that sheriff's deputies should have kept a closer eye on Cole.

Evans and Ficano are in the midst of a months-long battle over proposed budget cuts, a fight that has landed in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Last Monday, Cole, 46, of Macomb Township entered the Wayne County Jail after his bond was raised from tether release to $500,000 at the request of police officers. He was arrested Jan. 9 after police say he crashed into a car driven by Gary Holcomb, 22, of Detroit about 1:30 a.m. at the westbound I-94 service drive and Yorkshire.

Cole's lawyer, Mike Rataj, said Cole's former colleagues told sheriff's staff that Cole needed to be on suicide watch and that Cole said he would kill himself rather than go to prison.

Two nights later, he hanged himself with a torn bedsheet in his jail cell and was found dead Thursday morning and left several suicide notes, Rataj said.

"I don't think there's any question that the sheriff had information from the police that Chris Cole was suicidal," Rataj said.

Cole's was the second suicide in as many days at the jail.

Cole's 49-year-old brother, Michael Cole, said his brother had a long history of threatening suicide when he got into trouble. Christopher Cole had three drunken driving convictions and struggled with drugs, his brother said.

In 2001, he was acquitted of federal drug racketeering and civil rights abuses while four other cops were convicted of looting drug houses and gamblers. But, despite being cleared of the charges, Cole's friends and family said, he never got over the case.

He retired from the police department in 2005.

After the Jan. 9 accident, Cole "was absolutely devastated and the thought that he had hurt someone was the last straw," Michael Cole said. "I knew his intention was to get out on bail and hurt himself. I didn't want him to get out."

After his bond was raised, Christopher Cole called his 22-year-old daughter, Phaelyn Cole, and spoke cryptically, she said.

"He started telling me, no matter how everything turns out that he wanted us to know that he loves us no matter what," said Phaelyn Cole, who lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Grosse Pointe Park attorney Kevin Geer, who represents Holcomb's family, said Friday that Holcomb is in a coma at Detroit's St. John Hospital. He was in critical condition at the hospital Sunday, a hospital spokesperson said.

John Roach, a spokesman for Sheriff Warren Evans, agreed that Cole should have been on a suicide watch, but was instead placed in general population.

"Somebody needs to ask the county executive for answers," he said of Ficano. "For somebody who had such clear indicators, we cannot understand why they would not have seen those risk factors and assigned Mr. Cole to special accommodations at the jail."

Ficano spokeswoman Vanessa Denha-Garmo replied: "Appropriate mental and physical screenings were conducted as they always are when inmates enter the jail. The sheriff's deputies are in charge of placing inmates inside the jail. It is unfortunate that politics are playing a part of such a tragic case."

Jury Decides Officers Did NOT use Excessive Force After Shooting Man in Back


A jury decided Friday that four LaPorte police officers did not use excessive force when they shot and killed a mentally ill man seven years ago.

Read Court Document:
Plaintiffs' Original Complaint

During the trial, the Meadours family used a detailed recreation of the shooting to try to prove the officers used excessive force. The family said they called police in October 2001 to try to get help taking Bob Meadours to a mental hospital. They said he was paranoid and delusional.

The officers said they shot Bob Meadours when he rushed one of them with a screw driver.

"These officers were exonerated by their own department, they were exonerated by the District Attorney's Office and now they've been exonerated by a jury of their peers," defense attorney William Helfand said.

A key witness for the family, a ballistics expert, testified that at least six shots hit Meadours in the back as he ran from the officers. One of the shots penetrated Meadours' upper leg as he stood atop a dog house, the expert said.

The defense put on witnesses who testified the plaintiffs’ analysis can’t be backed up scientifically – that there’s not a way to tell with both Meadours and the officers moving, their exact positions when it happened.

"A life was taken and that's never easy," said Sgt. Steve Ermel, one of the officers who was sued. "That's something the Meadours family has to live with. That something each one of us has to live with."

The Meadours' family asked for what its attorney describes as "substantial" damages from the four officers involved. The family said it was not happy with the verdict but it accepted the jury's decision.

Officer Sean Christopher Letona Arrested for Battery


Police officers arrested a seven-year veteran of the Pinellas Park Police Department and his sister Sunday after a brawl in a bar parking lot.

Sean Christopher Letona, 30, of St. Petersburg was arrested and charged with misdemeanor simple battery. Letona has worked for the Pinellas Park Police Department since October 2001. He earns $44,900 a year.

Also arrested and charged with disorderly intoxication, a misdemeanor, was Alma Charice Letona, 25, also of St. Petersburg. Both Letonas were released on their own recognizance.

The incident began around 1 a.m. when Pinellas Park police Sgt. William Lowe received a message to call the St. Petersburg Police Department. When he did, St. Petersburg officers told him they had arrested Letona at a bar near Beach Drive SE and First Avenue S.

They said a brawl had begun inside the bar but the bouncers were able to move those involved into the parking lot. An off-duty St. Petersburg police officer was working a detail less than a block away and came when he heard the commotion in the parking lot. He was eventually joined by a second St. Petersburg police officer.

When the officers arrived at the bar, the fighting was over and several people had left the scene. As an officer told the remaining folks to leave, a man — later identified as Letona — "came out of nowhere," grabbed one of the bar patrons and began punching him. They fell to the ground, and Letona continued punching the other man despite police orders to stop.

"The officer deployed his Taser and that is when Officer Letona complied," Lowe wrote in his report. It was unclear which St. Petersburg officer used the Taser.

"While they were attempting to handcuff him, Officer Letona's sister tried to pull the officer away and continued to interfere. She was also arrested," according to the report.

St. Petersburg officers searched Letona and they found an ankle holster with a small-caliber handgun, his police badge and identification.

A St. Petersburg police sergeant called Pinellas Park, told Lowe what happened and that Letona was "extremely intoxicated." The sergeant asked if Lowe wanted to come pick up Letona or allow him to be arrested. Lowe said he would have to check with his superiors.

Capt. Mike Haworth, second in command at the Pinellas Park Police Department, told Lowe to "have the St. Petersburg police process (Letona) as they saw fit."

Lowe called St. Petersburg to say they could do what they "felt was warranted in this incident." After the St. Petersburg officer talked with his superiors, Letona was taken to jail.

Information on what started the bar brawl was unavailable Sunday.

Rookie Officer Jeffrey Fowler Arrested for Public Intoxication

A 28-year-old rookie Dallas police officer was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor public intoxication Sunday night in Oak Lawn.

At 11 p.m., Jeffrey Fowler was off duty and riding in a vehicle that was involved in a crash near Lemmon and Cole avenues, Dallas police Sgt. Gil Cerda said. No injuries were reported. Records show that Sunday was the officer’s birthday, but it’s unclear where he had been prior to the crash.

Fowler was taken to the Dallas city marshal’s detention facility at 1600 Chestnut St. He was released at 7:30 a.m. Monday on the class C misdemeanor charge, city marshals said.

Cerda said that Fowler had not been put on administrative leave over the incident. He is, however, on restricted duty, officials said.

Fowler is assigned to northwest patrol. He was hired in January 2007.