Mother: Kern County inmate suicide result of neglect

A former inmate's mother said her son's suicide could have been prevented.

The mother of a former inmate said her son's suicide could have been prevented.

More than a year ago, 20-year-old Walter Jacobo used a sheet to hang himself at the Lerdo Jail Maximum Medium Facility, while awaiting trial for murder. Jacobo's mother said her son was mentally ill and needed help, but he fell through the cracks.

A couple of notes and drawings are all Sandra Jacobo has left of her son. They are the last words he wrote before he committed suicide.

"He's telling me how much he loves me and how much he loves his brothers and his son," said Sandra Jacobo of the notes.

But, they're are also glimpses into Walter Jacobo's troubled mind.

"Most of the things Walter used to do, I can see now they were cries for help," said Sandra Jacobo.

Sandra Jacobo said her son was often depressed. "I used to take him to therapy," she said.

"I knew that he had suffered from depression before," said Richard Terry, Walter Jacobo's criminal defense attorney.

Walter Jacobo was in jail, accused of murdering 42-year-old George Haddad at the Havanna Smoke Shop on Niles Street in the fall of 2011.

Terry said he saw his client a month before his death.

"He didn't appear at that time to be suicidal," said Terry.

But in late January, Walter's mother said her son's conditioned worsened. "Every time he'll call me, he'll cry."

According to the Kern County Coroner's report, Walter Jacobo "was placed on suicide watch on February 5th after he wrote an inmate request to speak with psychiatric staff because he was hearing voices telling him to hurt himself."

Two days later, he returned to his cell. Seven days later, Sandra Jacobo saw her son in court.

"Walter, every time I go to his courts he'll tell me I love you and don't cry. And, the last day I see him was February 14th and he didn't even look at me," said Jacobo's mother.

Five days later, Walter Jacobo hanged himself with a sheet that would not have been there if he had been on suicide watch.

"They were supposed to watch my son," said Sandra Jacobo. "It could have been prevented."

The Coroner's report shows Walter Jacobo had scratches on his arm "consistent with self-cutting marks" and Prozac in his system, a "drug used to help control major depressive disorders." The Sheriff's Department said it cannot comment on this particular case.

"The opportunity for pending litigation still exists in any type of case like this. We're going to reserve comment until we pass that time until litigation is possible," said Francis Moore, Chief Deputy for the Kern County Sheriff's Department Detentions Bureau.

The Department did speak generally. Moore said an inmate is only taken off suicide watch if medical staff gives the okay.

"If they are not ready to come off, we don't take them off," said Moore. "Do we hold them longer than is recommended? Not without specific information that they are suicidal."

Moore also said if an inmate is determined to die there is little they can do to stop it. He said some pretend they're okay just to get off suicide watch.

However, there is an issue of space. According to the Sheriff's Department, the jail system only has 18 cells equipped for suicide watch and about 30 percent of the 2,600 to 2,800 inmates they house are mentally ill.

"At times, all of our cells are full with people who are suicidal," said Moore.

The Sheriff's Department can't say if overcrowding was an issue with Walter Jacobo, but his attorney has his thoughts.

"Did this guy slip through the cracks?," we asked Terry.

"It's a good possibility that he did, that aspect of it yeah and it's tragic. He was a young man," said Terry.

"I'm not mad at anybody," said Jacobo's mother. "It's not their fault. It's nobody's fault. I'm not angry."

Jacobo's mother said she wants to speak out so something like this doesn't happen to anyone else.

"They should have to do something," said Sandra Jacobo. "That's why my son is dead now."

Sandra Jacobo told 17 News she plans to sue the Sheriff's Department.

The Kern County Sheriff's Department said the new jail it plans to build will have more cells for suicidal inmates.

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