After 5 deaths in 5 months, NC agents will investigate Mecklenburg County jails

Karla Griffin, 33, died at a Mecklenburg County jail Wednesday, according to sheriff’s office officials.
Karla Griffin, 33, died at a Mecklenburg County jail Wednesday, according to sheriff’s office officials. Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office

After five inmate deaths in less than five months, the State Bureau of Investigation is examining what’s going on in Mecklenburg County jails, Sheriff Irwin Carmichael said Wednesday.

The most recent death came just after midnight Wednesday, when a 33-year-old woman died in an apparent suicide, according to the sheriff’s office.

Karla Griffin had been in jail for nearly a week. She was arrested Thursday on a fugitive charge from California, where she’s a suspect in a burglary case, jail officials said.

She is the only inmate this year to die at the jail’s minimum-to-medium security northern branch off Statesville Road, where female and juvenile inmates are housed.

Four men died at Jail Central, in uptown Charlotte, between May and July. The jail had one death per year from 2014 to 2017, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“In my 32 years (in law enforcement), I have never seen this,” Carmichael said at a news conference Wednesday.

Each death leads to an internal investigation, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police investigation and a state Department of Health and Human Services investigation, Carmichael said. The SBI will operate separately from those, he said.

Including Griffin’s case, three of the deaths this year are believed to be suicide, Carmichael said. Two others are still pending.

Carmichael said suicide attempts at the jail have actually gone down in 2018, with nine attempts compared to 21 in 2017.

The sheriff’s office employs seven full-time mental health workers, Carmichael said. The city’s two jails have a combined capacity of 2,518, according to the sheriff’s office’s website.

Two mental health counselors are available around the clock, MCSO Maj. David Hill said.

Inmates in Griffin’s area were checked at least twice an hour, at random times, officials said. That’s in accordance with state law, which has an exception for inmates who are intoxicated, abusing officers, behaving erratically or saying they will harm themselves. Those inmates are supposed to be checked four times per hour.

Hill said Griffin spoke normally with jail officers Tuesday night.

Griffin was convicted of felony breaking and entering into vehicles and misdemeanor larceny in August, and she was on probation for those offenses, according to records.

She lived in Huntersville, according to jail records.

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Jane Wester: 704-358-5128, @janewester