Durham County

Durham County Sheriff’s Office identifies man found dead at jail

The Durham County Sheriff’s Office has identified the 40-year-old man who died at the jail as James Earl Staton Jr.

Staton was found unresponsive in his cell around 4:40 p.m. Sunday.

Detectives are conducting a death investigation, which is standard practice. Preliminary findings suggest Staton died of natural causes, according to the Sheriff’s Office. His body was taken to the state medical examiner’s office in Raleigh for an autopsy.

The Inside-Outside Alliance, a group that advocates for jail inmates, has called a rally outside the jail for 6 p.m. Tuesday to show suppport for families of families of people who have died in he jail.

Staton was booked into the jail June 15 after he and a second man were charged with a May 24 armed robbery of Carolina Stained Glass on Guess Road. Police said the men, one with a gun, entered the store around 3 p.m. and used duct tape to restrain two people, ages 59 and 76. The suspects fled with cash and other items.

Staton was arrested in Wilson.

A woman who said she was Staton’s niece said by phone Tuesday that Staton, who grew up in Wilson, made some poor choices but was an incredible brother and uncle. He always kept his family smiling, she said.

The woman declined to provide her name, a photograph or other information about Staton.

The Sheriff’s Office will notify the State Bureau of Investigation of the in-custody death, which is standard protocol.

Under state law, county inmate deaths are also required to be reported to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The death report indicates that the last supervision rounds when Staton was seen alive were at 4:21 p.m. and 4:44 p.m. Sunday.

The report said his time of death was 5:23 p.m.

Col. Anthony Prignano, the director of the jail, said through a spokeswoman that the jail’s medical staff performed life-saving measures until paramedics arrived. Paramedics unsuccessfully continued working to revive him.

Staton was assigned to a single cell in a regular housing unit.

State regulations require inmates be checked at a minimum twice an hour.

After receiving a death report, the Construction Section of the Division of Health Service Regulation conducts a compliance investigation.

Since 2013, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has cited Durham in three jail deaths for leaving inmates unsupervised for longer than state regulations allow

▪ Terry Lee, 21, committed suicide in 2013. A DHHS investigation found Lee had a known history of mental illness and should have been observed four times an hour. The electronic record of detention officers’ rounds showed Lee went unobserved for nearly six hours the day he hanged himself, and had put a towel over his cell door window so no one could see what he was doing.

The Durham detention officer who was supposed to be checking on Lee was fired, a Durham jail official said.

▪ Matthew Lamont McCain, 29, died in jail in 2016 from a seizure disorder. A review of the electronic sensors showed a lack of required supervision. A detention officer was disciplined.

▪ In March, Uniece Fennell, 17, committed suicide after telling another inmate that she planned to harm herself. The state investigation found a jail official failed to take seriously a tip that she was planning to harm herself. Fennell wasn’t checked at least twice an hour through much of the day leading up to her suicide, and was not put on suicide watch when a tip came roughly two hours before her death in the early morning of March 23.

The jail has added new policies to make sure checks are done and requiring that any information suggesting inmates are threats to themselves be brought to the attention of supervisors and mental health staff, jail officials said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges