Karen Kirkland says she knew something was wrong Sunday morning when her fiance, Dashawn Devonte Evans, did not call.
"I'm the first one he calls," she said.
But this Sunday the call did not come, and Kirkland and Evans' relatives are asking how a seemingly healthy young man, a father of two, was found dead in his cell at the Durham County jail.
"He was a great person. He loved his boys. He was a great father,"" Kirkland said in an interview Monday. "He was my best friend."
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The Sheriff's Office said Evans was found unresponsive at the Durham County Detention Center shortly after 8 a.m. and that paramedics could not revive him.
Sheriff Mike Andrews has asked the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate, which is standard procedure in such incidents.
Evans had been in jail since Oct. 14, 2017, on a $750,000 secured bond, the Sheriff's Office said.
He was booked on charges of fleeing to elude arrest, hit/run (property damage), robbery with a dangerous weapon (two counts), felony conspiracy, and two counts of failure to appear in court, according to the Sheriff's Office. Evans’ attorney, Daniel Meier, said most of the charges were dismissed when the case was moved to federal court, where Evans recently pleaded guilty to federal robbery charges.
State records also show three previous convictions on misdemeanor drug (marijuana) or drug paraphernalia charges., for which Evans was sentenced to probation in 2012, 2014, and 2016 in Granville, Wake and Durham counties, respectively.
His death was the seventh at the jail since 2013.
"It could have been avoided," Roy Dunkins, Evans' uncle and pastor at Life Changers International Ministry in Oxford, said Monday. "He could have gotten much better help."
"They're not giving us a clear story," said Mercedes Jacobs, Evans' sister. "They said he came out for breakfast [and then returned to his cell]. How does a healthy person just turn around and die?"
Evans' aunt Valisha Evans visited Evans twice a week, sometimes bringing his children. "We just talked about how he was doing. He was always laughing. He loved his family."
"It's unbelievable," she added. "I just talked with him the day before. He didn't say anything was going on with him. He said, 'I'm used to it now.'"
Kirkland said she and Evans had been engaged for three years and planned to get married when he was no longer incarcerated.
"I don't know if we'll ever find out what happened," she said. "But I want to know what happened because he's leaving two little boys behind."
Deaths at the jail
The Sheriff's Office has come under scrutiny for in-custody deaths in recent years.
The number of deaths in the jail was an issue in the recent Democratic primary for sheriff, which Andrews lost to challenger Clarence Birkhead.
Last fall after James Earl Staton Jr. was found unresponsive in his cell, about 30 people marched in the streets.
Staton's autopsy suggested he died of natural causes related to cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, and a follow-up state investigation found no deficiencies in his supervision or any corrective action needed.
The others who died in custody were:
▪ Terry Lee
▪ Dennis Edward McMurray
▪ Raphael Marquis Bennett
▪ Matthew Lamont McCain
▪ Uniece "Niecey" Fennell
In response to state concerns about jail procedures related to three of the deaths, the jail added protocols to ensure regular inmate checks and to require that any information suggesting inmates are threats to themselves be brought to the attention of supervisors and mental health staff.
Last year, The News & Observer published a five-part series, Jailed to Death, that investigated inmate deaths in county jails.
Roughly half of the 151 people in North Carolina jails who died in the past five years struggled with mental illness, substance abuse or both, state records show, the report found.
The series found roughly a third of the deaths involved supervision issues such as failing to check inmates as required, broken cameras or intercoms, or leaving items in cells that inmates could use to kill themselves.
In Durham, Lee, 21, who had a history of mental illness, hanged himself in 2013 on dangerous window bars. Last year Fennell, 17, was found hanging from a bedsheet attached to a window bar.
The Durham County jail recently opened a mental health pod for male inmates with mental illness. The sheriff has requested money in the proposed county budget to add a women's pod in the coming fiscal tear.
Staff writers Dan Kane and Colin-Warren-Hicks contributed to this story.