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Family puts Grand Traverse officials on notice for 'dangerous' jail conditions

Grand Traverse County

The family of an inmate who committed suicide in the Grand Traverse County jail claims county officials knew the jail posed a suicide risk for inmates but did little to fix it.

Alan Halloway hanged himself in his cell in July. His parents, Teresa and Alan Halloway, have filed a notice of intent to file a claim, pointing to building defects in the jail that made it dangerous to inmates. This notice allows the family to file a lawsuit against the Grand Traverse County sheriff and board of commissioners later on.

The document says the county received a report in 2014 from the National Institute of Corrections saying the jail was unsafe and not suicide resistant.

In a presentation to county commissioners that same year, a representative of the NIC made this statement:

"Another major concern is all the cells have elements that are the opposite of suicide resistant. It’s good that you have all the cameras and that you’ve had relatively few suicides, but there’s many opportunities in virtually all parts – all of the housing units for inmates – if they want to hang themselves – to do that."

The NIC representative said many of the county's jail cells were not appropriate, particularly for people with mental illness, "and we've heard that as many as 80 percent of your inmates are mentally ill."

The representative also said the county was "over reliant on cameras" and that "direct observation by staff works better than cameras."

The Halloway's notice says the county did little to make the jail safer after receiving this report.

"No one can deny that the jail was deliberately indifferent to the dangers and defects that led up to Mr. Halloway’s death," says the Halloway's attorney Jesse Williams. "It’s undeniable."

A review of the death by the Michigan Sheriff's Association found that Halloway was dead for three hours before he was found and that officers failed to do routine checks of his cell during that time.

Halloway had been charged with attempted murder and had previously been on suicide watch in the jail.

Officials at the Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Office have not yet responded to requests for comment.

The Halloways also have a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Grand Traverse Sheriff's Office. The lawsuit says the sheriff's office violated FOIA, illegally withholding information and video footage connected to the death of Halloway. 

Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.