Records: Double-murder suspect who died in York County jail not considered violent, suicidal

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comNovember 22, 2013 

— The double-murder suspect who died in a York County Detention Center holding cell while strapped to a restraint chair was not considered violent or suicidal when he first entered the jail, according to documents obtained by The Herald.

The State Law Enforcement Division is still investigating the death of Joshua Matthew Grose, 34, who died at the jail on Oct. 20.

Investigators say Grose had stolen a car from Sandra Thomas, 53, and used it to run over and kill her in Rock Hill’s River Pines subdivision off Mount Gallant Road nearly two days earlier. They say he also struck and killed his stepmother, Sandra Grose, 65, with the car, and assaulted his uncle, Curtis Allan Sisk, 60.

Last week, the York County Sheriff’s Office made public the findings of an internal investigation into what happened after detention center staff put a combative and uncooperative Grose into a restraint chair. They say he had banged his head against a cell wall and tried to drown himself in a jail toilet.

Sheriff Bruce Bryant and his office’s attorney, Kris Jordan, said detention center guards followed policies in their dealings with Grose.

Surveillance video was displayed for reporters but was not released to the public because authorities fear disclosing the footage would pose a security risk. It shows detention center guards taking Grose out of his cell in the moments after he tried to drown himself in the toilet.

Grose struggled against officers, flailing his legs wildly and grabbing one officer’s leg. Once he was placed in a restraint chair, Grose hit his head repeatedly against the back of the chair and a cell window. At about 2:30 a.m., guards noticed he was still and not breathing.

Officials performed CPR on him for at least 20 minutes before he was taken to Piedmont Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

“They did a number of things that seemed to be appropriate,” said Blake Taylor, director for the state Department of Corrections’ division of inspections and compliance. “I haven’t found anything yet to fault how they handled” the situation.

But before officers began struggling with Grose, he had been calm and compliant, other than refusing three times to answer booking questions, according to documents The Herald obtained through the state Freedom of Information Act.

According to an initial intake form, the officer who arrested Grose documented that he did not exhibit any mental health, suicidal or violent behaviors – despite his being charged with killing two people and assaulting a third.

The initial intake questions are based on the officer’s interaction with the inmate, Jordan said this week.

“The purpose is to know if you had trouble getting him in the car” or if the inmate put up a fight, she said. “Regardless of what someone is charged with, they are innocent until they’re proven guilty.

“Typically, if you have someone coming in in a violent mode, there’s a call ahead to the detention center.”

The intake questions are “preliminary,” she said, “to let us know what we’re dealing with.”

Not a mental health facility

Last week, Jordan said the detention center is unable to operate as a mental health facility.

According to detention center policies, the intake/booking officer must complete a medical screening on the inmate before they’re completely booked into the facility. During that screening, the officer must review an inmate’s:

• History of psychological treatment

• Current psychological medications

• History of suicidal behavior

• History of drug and alcohol abuse

• History of behavior “suggestive” of violent behavior

If any of those problems is identified, policies state, the detention center’s Medical Services Unit is to be notified and mental health professionals must be consulted to determine housing arrangements for that inmate, whether at the detention center or another inpatient facility.

Grose’s criminal history includes arrests for drug offenses and driving under the influence. Three years ago, deputies were called to his home, where they found him nude with wounds on both his wrists. They said he had cut himself with a knife.

Grose did not receive a medical screening because he did not complete the booking process. An incomplete booking notification form – dated Oct. 18, the day of Grose’s arrest – shows that his photograph, fingerprints, medical screening, and some warrant and court information were yet to be completed.

“If he’s already dealt with the law and they knew he was a cutter, that’s a very clear exhibit that this person has a mental health issue,” said Dr. Brad Tripp, a Winthrop University sociology professor who teaches classes on criminology, deviance and corrections. “When I see someone engaging in self-mutilation, to me, that’s a sign of mental illness.”

He wondered if intake officers knew of Grose’s previous run-ins with the law and, if they didn’t, why that information was not available.

Jordan said she did not know if the intake officer or arresting officer looked up Grose’s criminal history or previous encounters with law enforcement.

“When you have someone who is arrested on scene at the murder, (police) are not concerned with what he’s done in the past at that point,” she said. “They’re worried about taking him into custody safely and getting him transferred in the facility.”

Detectives would have uncovered more about Grose’s past if the investigation had continued normally, Jordan said.

Detectives are continuing their investigation into Sandra Thomas’ and Sandra Grose’s deaths with hopes of giving family members closure.

“But again, the focus at that point is not on Mr. Grose,” she said. “The focus is on the crime itself. He’s in the detention center; he’s in the booking area; he’s not off by himself.”

A more detailed medical evaluation for Grose, along with considerations about his suicidal tendencies, would have been completed on the Monday after he was arrested, when he would have undergone the classification process, Jordan said.

Detention center staff consider an inmate’s criminal history, seriousness of the crime he or she is charged with, behavior and several other factors when categorizing him or her to determine what kind of housing the inmate will receive in the jail, Jordan said.

If the officer had noted any troubling behavior from Grose, Jordan said, detention center staff likely would have activated a suicide prevention protocol, or Grose would have been taken to Piedmont Medical Center for evaluation.

“It just depends on which way he presented,” she said. “It depends on how extreme his actions were, what he was trying to do, what resources would be available at the time.”

But because Grose three times declined to be booked, that classification process was never started, documents show. An inmate intake checklist shows 25 steps booking officers must complete when admitting an inmate into the detention center. Grose made it to step 16.

Jails overwhelmed

Tripp, the Winthrop professor, agrees that the detention center is not equipped to handle inmates with mental health issues. Jails nationwide have been saddled with inmates suffering from serious mental issues because government funding for mental health facilities and services has been cut, he said.

“Handling violent and suicidal inmates is a tough job,” he said. “Our correctional system has become the de facto mental health department for lower-income poor people. Would a mental health facility be better for this? Yeah, but we don’t really have those anymore.

“We have a social structure ... engaged in a purpose or function that it wasn’t really designed for. I see that as kind of an overriding problem, not just here, but everywhere in America.”

Regarding Grose’s behavior toward detention center staff, Tripp said, “it sounds like he did have a mental disorder from the way the crimes were engaged in.

“To have him go from being compliant to all of a sudden flipping a switch and being so non-compliant ... that’s pretty bizarre. To bang your head until you die, that’s pretty peculiar behavior.”

Preliminary autopsy results showed that Grose died from blunt force trauma to the head, York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said. She has not made an official ruling on his death, and likely won’t until his full autopsy results return.

Toxicology results, which would show if any intoxicants or other chemical substances were in Grose’s bloodstream at the time of his death, have returned, Gast said.

She declined to release or discuss those results until the full autopsy is complete, which she hopes will be next week. A coroner’s report, which will detail the coroner’s initial findings when responding to the scene and the subsequent ruling on Grose’s death, will be available this week.

The morning Grose died, York County officials notified Taylor, the state prisons compliance director.

“It seems to me the facility staff did everything they could to manage the situation,” he said, adding that jailors went “above and beyond” what’s required in trying to bring Grose under control.

“They did a number of things that seemed to be appropriate,” he said. “They tried to subdue him and get him under control through verbal commands. When he continued his behavior, he was put in a restraint chair, not only to protect the staff from him, but also to protect him from himself.”

Grose tried to bait officers into a situation where he would commit “suicide by police,” Taylor said, acting so erratically that officials would have no choice but to use lethal force to stop his tirade.

“They seem to have done a good job of trying to prevent that,” he said. “It may be, and I can’t say for certain until the SLED investigation and autopsy results are over, by banging his head on the wall, he may have done damage that resulted in his death despite their best efforts to interrupt him.

“It wasn't something staff inflicted on him ... it was self-inflicted.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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