MISSOULA — A coroner's jury on Monday determined there was no criminal action on the part of the staff of the Missoula County jail when an inmate committed suicide in September.
The jury watched a surveillance video that showed 47-year-old Jay Johnson tying socks together, fastening the loop to the faucet on the sink in his cell and leaning into the makeshift noose Sept. 9. He was found dead 35 minutes later.
State medical examiner Dr. Gary Dale testified Johnson died of brain damage resulting from a lack of oxygen. Undersheriff Susan Hintz said more than 20 cameras monitor the jail's public areas and its cells, but officers aren't necessarily watching all the cameras at once.
Officers watch two large screens that can show any number of combinations of images from the cameras, she said, adding that "we would rather have officers interacting (with inmates) than looking at the cameras."
Hintz said three separate screenings — during Johnson's booking, and by a nurse and then a classification officer — that include a question about suicidal tendencies did not raise any warning flags. She said Johnson also made phone calls that day to his father, who did not raise any concerns.
The jury deliberated for about 15 minutes before returning with its verdict in the coroner's inquest, which is mandatory whenever someone dies during an arrest or while in law enforcement custody.
Johnson was arrested Sept. 7 for violating the conditions of his parole relating to a 1993 sentencing in Cascade County on charges of kidnapping and rape. Deputy Missoula County District Attorney Jason Marks says Johnson was told the morning of his death that authorities would seek to revoke his parole.