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Authorities investigating inmate death at Roanoke City Jail

Inmate housed in general population at time of incident

ROANOKE, Va. – An inmate from the Roanoke City Jail died Thursday night.

A deputy completing a routine security check found Arron Michael Wheaton hanging in his cell around 7:07 p.m.

Deputies and jail medical staff immediately tried to save his life, doing CPR and using a defibrillator until the ambulance arrived.

Upon arrival, Roanoke Fire-EMS personnel also attempted to revive Wheaton but were unsuccessful.

He was pronounced dead at 7:45 p.m.

Wheaton was housed in general population with other inmates at the time of this incident. He was processed into the jail Sunday.

Wheaton was being held for trespassing and disobeying a court order out of Roanoke city and did not have a bond.

The Roanoke City Police Department and the Roanoke City Sheriff’s Office are conducting a joint investigation into the incident.

The Sheriff’s Office released a statement Friday, saying the inmates’ mental health is a top concern and something it continues to address.

Within the past six months, there were 14 attempted suicides in which staff intervened and saved the inmates lives', according to the Sheriff’s Office.

It also said that within that same time frame, 212 inmates were placed on suicide watch as a precaution based on how they interacted with medical staff or deputies.

Since 2015, seven “in-custody” jail deaths were suicides. The Sheriff’s Office says none of the seven was on suicide watch, as they did not meet the suicide watch protocol. It says there were 1,457 incidents during that time frame where inmates did meet the protocol and were placed on suicide watch.

The Roanoke City Sheriff’s Office says that it has made policy changes in direct response to these suicides in order to better “identify and accommodate the growing incarcerated population in need of mental health treatment.”

Upon arriving at the jail, all inmates receive a state-mandated mental health screening. In addition to this, the Roanoke City Jail conducts a more in-depth suicide risk assessment.

The jail says specialized housing is available for inmates who don’t meet the protocol for suicide watch but still need mental health intervention.

There is special housing for “detoxing, crisis intervention and stabilization, therapeutic programming and chronic medical care,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Over the past five years, the Sheriff’s Office has invested more than a quarter of a million dollars into upgrading surveillance throughout the jail.

The jail says it recently acquired 12 new control room operator positions that “will allow for enhanced monitoring of inmate activity.”

A mental health unit opened in the Roanoke City Jail in April 2018.


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