Metro Louisville

Note: This story includes a description of a suicide method.

Metro Corrections Director Dwayne Clark provided details on Tuesday about the three deaths of people incarcerated at the Louisville jail last week during a regular meeting of the city’s Jail Policy Committee. 

Clark shared previously unreleased details about the time leading up to 48-year-old Stephanie Dunbar’s death, described by officials as a suicide, on Saturday. He said Dunbar got into a fight with another person incarcerated at the jail and had to be moved to a different unit within the facility. After getting into a second fight, Clark said Dunbar was transferred into a single-person holding cell.

“Later, an officer walked past, saw her alive,” he said. “Approximately 20 minutes later [the officer] passed back through there and saw her hanging herself.”

Clark told the committee that Metro Corrections staff pulled Dunbar down and attempted CPR. She was transported to the hospital, where she died. 

Dunbar’s death was the third linked to the downtown Louisville jail last week. Jail officials said 59-year-old Kenneth Hall was found unresponsive in one of the housing units last Monday. Not long after, he was taken to University of Louisville Hospital, where he died. Rickitta Smith, 34, died on Friday after being rushed to the hospital. Officials said she appeared to be having a seizure.

Clark did not release any new details about the deaths of Hall or Smith. He said Metro Corrections and the Louisville Metro Police Department are conducting investigations. 

“We’re going to investigate these [deaths], certainly investigate them thoroughly and look at any violations [of policy] that may have occurred,” Clark said. 

Daniel Johnson, president of the Metro Corrections union, said there were only two guards working in the unit when Dunbar died. One of the guards on duty had already completed an overnight shift. 

Johnson said there were supposed to be four officers on duty, including a “tablet officer” who would have been responsible for monitoring people with mental health issues or at-risk of committing suicide. There was no tablet officer on duty at the time of Dunbar’s death, he said.

“On that particular day, we had 14 positions that were vacant,” Johnson said. “You can’t operate like that and expect it’s not going to have a significant impact on our operations within the jail.”

Johnson and other Metro Corrections staff have been speaking out about the troubling situation at the Louisville jail for months. They say the residential units are overcrowded, and a shortage of officers has created dangerous conditions. 

The ACLU of Kentucky and other criminal justice reform groups recently called on top city officials and prosecutors to enact immediate reforms to alleviate overcrowding. They sent a letter to officials Tuesday afternoon demanding they stop using cash bail for nonviolent offenses and ensure adequate mental health and drug treatment services are provided to incarcerated people.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.