EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 14, 2013

Rockingham County officials probe inmate death

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — BRENTWOOD — Authorities are investigating the death of a Rockingham County jail inmate after a 67-year-old Malden, Mass., man apparently hanged himself while his cellmate was asleep.

The inmate, Wayne Scappace, was found dead in his cell at 4:40 a.m. last Saturday, according to Sheriff Michael Downing.

He said yesterday his office is investigating the incident, along with the state medical examiner’s office, which is conducting an autopsy.

The death is one of two incidents involving the jail in the last week following the indictment of the former office administrator on theft charges for allegedly padding the paycheck of her husband, a correctional officer.

Downing said Scappace was arrested in Newton and arraigned in 10th Circuit Court in Plaistow the day before his death for allegedly violating a protective order in a domestic violence case.

He had only been at the jail for about 11 hours and was on a 15-minute suicide watch, standard protocol for an inmate’s first 24 hours, according to County Commissioner Thomas Tombarello.

Scappace apparently tied a bed sheet to a vent and hanged himself. His cellmate slept through it.

After jail workers found Scappace, they tried to revive him with a defibrillator, but could not.

The last time an inmate committed suicide at the jail was four years ago, Downing said. The county’s three commissioners oversee the jail and Superintendent Stephen Church, who could not be reached for comment.

Although each cellblock is monitored by a camera and jail guard, Tombarello and Commissioner Kevin Coyle said it’s not always possible to stop an inmate determined to take his own life.

The two commissioners, who are both in law enforcement, said suicides are not uncommon in their line of work.

Tombarello has been a deputy sheriff in Massachusetts for 14 years and Coyle is a prosecutor for the Londonderry Police Department.

“It’s very unfortunate and I’m sad it happened,” Coyle said. “Unfortunately, you can’t prevent everything that people do.”

The commissioners said they were immediately notified of the incident and were satisfied with an initial review completed by Church.

“It shows all the protocol was done the way it should be,” Tombarello said.

That includes keeping a log of all cell checks, he said. Tombarello said a 30-day internal review of the jail is also underway.

“It’s to make sure we are doing everything possible to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Commission Chairwoman Katharin Pratt declined to comment on the inmate’s death and jail protocol until she receives Downing’s report on the incident.

The death at the jail comes at a time when the facility is under increased scrutiny.

County Attorney James Reams announced Wednesday that the jail’s office administrator, Anne Marie Nelson of Chester, was indicted on charges she stole at least $12,000 in county money.

Nelson, who is to be arraigned in Rockingham Superior Court on Sept. 26, faces two felony theft charges for allegedly padding her husband’s paycheck. They were both terminated from their positions.

Anne Marie Nelson could face further charges and her husband may be charged as well once the four-month investigation is complete, Reams said.

The commissioners said the two incidents are not a reflection of how the jail is managed.

They also said steps have been taken to improve financial controls at the jail and other county departments to ensure relatives are not supervising or handling the payroll of family members.

“I think Steve Church runs a very decent operation,” Coyle said. “We put our trust in people who sometimes steal from us.”