Pitkin County Jail inmate died by suicide Sunday night, sheriff says
Woody Creek woman was in jail waiting for transfer to in-patient facility
A Woody Creek woman who recently had been found incompetent to stand trial after a long history of theft and drunken driving died by suicide Sunday inside the Pitkin County Jail, officials said Monday.
Jillian White, 64, was discovered in her cell at 6:18 p.m. Sunday “unconscious, unresponsive,” according to a news release from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
She was last checked on between 15 minutes and 30 minutes before, when a jail deputy saw her making a phone call, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Monday. Deputies performed CPR and used a defibrillator in an attempt to revive White, but they were not successful, the news release states.
“My worst fear is to lose a deputy or an inmate,” DiSalvo said late Sunday night. “And now we’ve lost an inmate.”
The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death and will be reviewing footage from cameras inside the jail as well as the recording of White’s phone conversation Sunday evening, DiSalvo said Monday. The involved jail deputies have been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the internal investigation, according to the news release.
White was due in court Monday during the regular, bi-monthly felony Pitkin County criminal court docket. Her lawyer filed a motion Friday to get her transferred to an in-patient facility.
White was not on suicide watch at the time of her death, said Alex Burchetta, chief deputy of operations.
Asked if mistakes were made by jail staff, DiSalvo declined to comment pending outcome of the investigation.
He did point out that he asked Pitkin County commissioners to fund three more jail deputies during his budget presentation last month. He was approved for one.
“I do know I need more staff in the jail,” DiSalvo said. “We need improvements.”
Beyond that, jail is not the right place for people with serious mental illnesses, he said.
“Right now, society is dealing with severely mentally ill people by placing them in jail,” DiSalvo said. “That’s not the place for them … but we keep using it because there’s no alternative.”
Michael Bolton, 51, was the last person to die by suicide at the Pitkin County Jail in August 1999, Burchetta said.
White, whose lawyers have previously said she suffers from a brain injury, has been charged with DUI four times since 2014 in Pitkin and Eagle counties and with theft at least six times in Pitkin County since 2008.
Her latest arrest came in August of this year, when sheriff’s deputies arrested her and charged her with theft for allegedly stealing from her neighbors.
An evaluation found that White was incompetent to stand trial and needed to be restored to competency before legal proceedings could continue, District Judge Chris Seldin said at the time. White’s lawyer, Jennifer Longtin of Denver, asked in August for the restoration to be done on an out-patient basis, though Seldin denied the request after prosecutor Don Nottingham objected to it.
The judge gave White five days to find an in-patient facility to do the restoration rather than have her sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo for restoration. The deadline came and went without a resolution and Seldin issued a warrant for her arrest in mid-August, Nottingham said Monday. White had been in jail since then.
Longtin finally found a facility that would accept White, and filed a motion Friday asking the court to release her to that facility, Nottingham said. Seldin had not yet had a chance to rule on the motion, Nottingham said.
A message left Monday morning for Longtin was not returned.
White has been arrested and charged with theft for stealing things ranging from coconut water to sunglasses to skis since 2008. A downtown Aspen clothing store employee followed her in 2015 to her Porsche SUV after recognizing her as the person who stole a $4,100 pullover two years before. Days before that arrest in 2015, New York City police arrested White for allegedly stealing a Givenchy purse, a prosecutor has said.
In 2017, a District Court prosecutor said White was suffering from “significant kleptomania.”
White was also arrested in May and charged with stalking and intimidating a witness in relation to her DUI arrest in El Jebel after an accident on Highway 82. White told police a male friend had been driving the car when the accident occurred, though the man was not on scene when police arrived.
White allegedly tried repeatedly to convince the man to lie to police and tell them he was at the wheel, then sent threatening emails to him and his two children when he refused, according to court documents.
Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said Monday that the county may eventually need to find a new way to fund the jail and law enforcement in general.
The jail’s population has changed in recent years to include longer inmate stays and more instances of mental health and substance abuse challenges, he said. However, the money the county gets for the general governance, which funds the Sheriff’s Department, has been dropping because of restrictions imposed by the TABOR Amendment, Peacock said. That means the county must balance the jail with other core priorities including housing, child care and environmental concerns.
“What we’re saying is the Sheriff’s Department has asked for more staff than we’ve been able to give under our revenue restrictions,” Peacock said. “Eventually we’re going to need a new revenue source (for public safety).”
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