Durham County

Durham County Sheriff’s Office says teen murder suspect hanged herself in cell

Uniece Glenae Fennell
Uniece Glenae Fennell Durham County Sheriff’s Office

A teenage murder suspect found dead in her cell Thursday committed suicide by hanging herself, according to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

Uniece Glenae Fennell, 17, was found hanging from her cell’s middle window bar with a bed sheet wrapped around her neck, stated the report signed by Maj. Julia Couch, interim director of the Durham County Detention Center.

Fennell was being held in lieu of $5 million bail in the shooting death of Andre Bond on July 10, 2016. Bond was found dead on Woodview Drive in what appeared to have been a drive-by attack.

Fennell was being held in a cell by herself and was not on suicide watch at the time of her death, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs said. She added that jail staff had completed required hourly routine checks of Fennell's cell.

Following state guidelines, detention officers must directly observe detainees twice an hour, unless a detainee is intoxicated, verbally abusive, displaying erratic behavior or under suicide observation at which point routine checks are increased to four times an hour.

Officer Tanisha Stripling observed Fennell in her cell at 2:18 a.m. Thursday and found her hanging from a cell window bar and unresponsive at 2:48 a.m., according to Friday’s report.

The jail’s medical team tried to revive Fennell until paramedics arrived; she was pronounced dead at the jail at 3:40 a.m.

“While we appreciate calls for additional details, releasing information prematurely wouldn’t be prudent. We are deliberate in our efforts to protect the privacy of the detainee who died and the integrity of the investigation,” Sheriff Mike Andrews said. “To remove doubt and speculation, the Sheriff’s Office has decided to ask the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the unfortunate suicide of Uniece Fennell, and the events leading up to her death at the Durham County Detention Facility.”

On Wednesday, the day before Fennell’s death, her attorney, Alex Charns, had written to jail officials to complain about an unnamed detention officer who he said had called Fennell a “murderer” and inmates “bitches.”

Charns also said officials had not allowed Fennell, jailed since July 26, 2016, to attend her twin brother’s funeral after he was found fatally shot Nov. 1 on East Pilot Street.

On Friday, Andrews confirmed his office had received Charns’ complaint and begun investigating it the same day.

The investigation found the detention officer accused of making the alleged comments had resigned two weeks before Charns made his complaint and added that Fennell had never filed such a complaint through normal jail channels.

Fennell was charged in Bond’s shooting death along with Jose Kendell, whom police charged under the name Joseph Kendell Jr., now 22, who remains jailed without bond.

Another arrest warrant charges a third person, Demonte Christopher, then 19, with Bond’s murder, but he remained at large on Friday.

What’s next?

The jail will submit a report on Fennell’s death to the N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services Jail and Detention Section. The Durham County Public Health department also gets a copy.

After state inspectors conduct an investigation, they will meet with Andrews, the jail staff and Public Health and Correct Care Solutions, the jail’s medical-service provider.

A letter detailing the investigators’ findings and an N.C. Health and Human Services review’s findings will be sent to the jail. If deficiencies are found, the jail’s staff will submit a corrective action plan to the state.

At the same time, the Sheriff’s Office will investigate whether there is any criminal wrongdoing in Fennell’s death. If they believe there is, they will contact the District Attorney’s Office. If they don’t, that investigation will be over. The state does not require a final report.

The Public Health department will also conduct a medical review that is separate from the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation.

Staff writers Dan Kane and Mark Schultz contributed to this story.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks