Jackson County Jail inmate death investigation detailed in prosecutor’s findings

SEYMOUR — Jackson County Prosecutor Jeffrey A. Chalfant has found that no crimes were committed by Jackson County Jail employees to cause the death of inmate Joshua A. McLemore, who died of multiple organ failure after refusing to eat or drink for days, without being taken for medical attention.

McLemore, 29, had listed a Clifty Lane apartment address in Columbus during an arrest in Bartholomew County in 2021.

Chalfant released his findings late Wednesday from an investigation into the death of an inmate under the care of the Jackson County Jail in August 2021.

After reviewing a nine-month investigation by the investigative division of the Indiana State Police Versailles Post, Chalfant found that no crimes were committed by Jackson County Jail employees related to McLemore’s death, although Chalfant did say McLemore most likely died “due to a prolonged lack of attention by the jail staff as a group.”

This is the second investigation into the death of a Jackson County Jail inmate in 2021 after Ta’Neasha Chappell, a 23-year-old Louisville, Kentucky, woman, died in custody of the jail on July 16, 2021, at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour. Chalfant made a similar ruling in Chappell’s death. Her family is suing Sheriff Rick Meyer and eight jail inmates for $30 million.

McLemore died Aug. 1, 2021, at a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The autopsy report said McLemore’s cause of death was due to multiple organ failure, refusal to eat or drink with altered mental status and unrelated schizophrenia. His manner of death was listed as natural, and a report of his health history said he had a history of mental illness (bipolar disorder and schizophrenia), illegal narcotics and methamphetamine abuse and numerous serious health conditions.

Chalfant said his findings showed Meyer requested a state police investigation into McLemore’s death on Aug. 27, 2021. The sheriff’s department initiated the death investigation before turning it over to state police.

Chalfant said McLemore spent virtually the entire time he was in jail from July 20, 2021, until Aug. 8, 2021, in a private and padded cell, and a camera recorded the interior of the cell when motion was detected.

The state police and prosecutor’s office viewed all of the footage of McLemore’s cell from his incarceration during that time period.

At the time of McLemore’s death, Chalfant said there were three pending charges against him in Jackson County. Those charges, stemming from two incidents May 25, 2021, are battery resulting in bodily injury to a public safety official, a Level 5 felony, resisting law enforcement, a Level 6 felony, and leaving the scene of an accident, a Class B misdemeanor.

Chalfant said it was necessary to discuss the cases in his findings to contextualize the July 20, 2021, arrest that led McLemore to be jailed.

During the May 25 incidents, Chalfant said McLemore spoke with police and medical personnel and had some appropriate responses with them but also exhibited bizarre behavior and appeared to be under the influence of drugs.

Some comments included McLemore saying gangsters were chasing him and demons were attempting to dismember him, Chalfant said.

The findings included a summary of the state police investigation in which they examined McLemore’s time in jail from his arrest to when he was released from jail on Aug. 8, 2021, due to a medical emergency.

On July 20, the state police found Seymour officers were dispatched to an apartment regarding McLemore.

McLemore, according to state police, was found naked and incoherent that day and was transported to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour for evaluation.

At Schneck, McLemore assaulted a nurse who was treating him by pulling on her hair, and he was arrested for battery.

During his 20 days at the jail, state police said McLemore remained naked and neither he nor jail staff were able to dress him in a jail-issued smock.

His behavior was “very erratic,” according to state police, and “he rarely slept, ate or drank.”

They estimated McLemore slept for 15 hours out of the 20 days, or 480 hours, of his incarceration.

The state police investigation found McLemore retrieved approximately 32 meals and lost 44.8 pounds during his incarceration. He retrieved less drinks than he did meals, state police said.

McLemore’s cell was constantly in disarray, state police said, and he was reported to have urinated in his cell. He also threw and spilled his food on the floor and walls of his cell and destroyed styrofoam trays, paper bags and cups that were used to serve his food and drinks.

On Aug. 8, jail staff requested an ambulance to take McLemore to Schneck because he appeared to be not well.

Schneck staff decided to send him to Mercy West Hospital in Cincinnati since the Seymour hospital wasn’t equipped to give him proper care due to it being an extremely busy night and a surge in COVID-19 cases, police said.

When information about McLemore’s medical transportation situation was communicated to Meyer, he instructed the jail commander to place McLemore in an “O.R.” state and was “ordered released” from the Jackson County Jail, on orders of Sheriff Rick Meyer.

One doctor at Schneck, who reportedly saw McLemore on several occasions, told state police he had a history of illegal narcotics use and he had been repeatedly told to stay away from methamphetamine.

State police said McLemore was attended to by dozens and dozens of medical staff in Cincinnati and was administered “a battery of tests and examinations across multiple, different specialities.”

McLemore’s family was in contact by medical staff in Cincinnati and they stated he “would not want to pursue further aggressive measures and would desire the withdrawal of care,” state police said.

At 5:38 p.m. Aug. 10, 2021, McLemore was pronounced dead.

The toxicology report said McLemore’s blood was drawn Aug. 8 at Schneck, and the results showed no drugs of abuse, no ethanol and no ethylene glycol were detected.

Chalfant detailed a meeting with an ISP investigator that was held to share their observations and opinions.

The investigator said, in their opinion, there was no evidence of a knowing, intentional or reckless act and no single person committed an act or omission that constituted a crime, and McLemore most likely died due to a prolonged lack of attention by Jackson County Jail staff as a group.

During the meeting, the investigator said normally, one or two Jackson County Jail employees are responsible for watching video screens that sometimes showed a view of the inside of McLemore’s cell.

According to the investigator, his cell typically had between 24 and 36 camera views showing, and jail employees can view up to 96 camera views and display up to 36 camera views on one video screen.

The investigator said jail employees who watched the video screen also were responsible for responding to call box communications for all inmates in the jail, locking and unlocking all doors in the jail, booking in and booking out inmates, processing paperwork and other daily responsibilities.

Because shift duties would rotate every four hours, the investigator said, “this means anyone watching the video screen that showed the inside of Mr. McLemore’s cell would be watching for four hours and would have no knowledge of what happened in Mr. McLemore’s cell before and after their four-hour duty assignment of watching the video screen.”

Jail employees told the investigator they saw McLemore every day, and a change wasn’t seen until the end. They also kept logs of information about him they felt were important.

The rotating shifts caused jail employees to not realize McLemore never asked to use the restroom and he rarely ate or drank, the investigator said.

The state police video review of the cell shows McLemore received about 19 drinks during his incarceration, usually in Styrofoam cups or Gatorade bottles, and most of them were purposefully spilled on himself or the cell floor. “The drinks would mix on the floor with the food trash and his urine, causing the cell to be in a constant state of disarray,” the state police said.

During his stay at the jail, McLemore was at one point put in a straitjacket due to his erratic and self-harming behavior, state police said. He was taken out of his cell three times for the cell to be cleaned. According to the state police report, McLemore’s cell had a restroom attached to it, through a locked door, which jail staff said is unlocked at the inmate’s request to use the restroom or shower.

State police said McLemore did not ever ask for access to the restroom or shower. He was given access to the restroom on one occasion during his 20-day incarceration for a few hours, however he did not use it. The investigation indicated McLemore frequently urinated in his cell, and video shows that he remained naked in the cell during that time.

McLemore did not have contact with any other inmates during his incarceration and did not ask to make any phone calls or video calls, state police said. He had no visits from friends or family while incarcerated.

McLemore’s court-appointed attorney told state police he met with him July 29, 2021.

During the visit, the attorney said McLemore responded “yes” when asked if he was Joshua McLemore but didn’t answer additional questions and paced around his cell.

Chalfant said in his findings, the state police investigation did not uncover any evidence indicating McLemore was knowingly or intentionally killed by another person or any evidence that his death was caused by a knowing, intentional or reckless act. Therefore, there is no evidence he was the victim of murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide.

He said whether a person or entity had a duty of reasonable care toward a person and if that care was sufficient or a breach of that duty of reasonable care are matters of civil law and not criminal law.

Chalfant said he agrees with the ISP investigator that there was no evidence of a knowing, intentional or reckless act; no single person committed an act or omission that constituted a crime; and McLemore most likely died due to a prolonged lack of attention by the jail staff as a group.