Suicide suspected in death of Duchesne County Jail inmate

Published: Monday, Feb. 25 2013 4:09 p.m. MST

DUCHESNE — A Roosevelt man has died in the Duchesne County Jail in what investigators are calling an apparent suicide.

The in-custody death happened just after midnight Thursday in the jail's booking area, Duchesne County Sheriff Travis Mitchell said.

"We're still waiting for all the data to come in," Mitchell told the Deseret News when asked for additional details about the man's death, and about the internal investigation being conducted by sheriff's detectives. "We want to be thorough in our investigation and not leave anything out."

Roosevelt Police Chief Rick Harrison said officers arrested Gary Donald Mecham for investigation of assault, domestic violence in the presence of a child and intoxication late Wednesday night after being called to his mother's home on a report of a disturbance.

"I've known (Mecham) for 25 years or more," Harrison said. "I talked to him at the scene and he didn't indicate that he intended to do that (commit suicide)."

The arresting officer took Mecham to Uintah Basin Medical Center for a medical clearance before transporting him to the jail, Harrison said. The clearance was deemed necessary because of Mecham's level of intoxication, the chief said. 

Mecham was booked just before midnight and placed in a holding cell, Mitchell said. He was discovered unconscious in that cell about 12:17 a.m., the sheriff said, declining to identify the method Mecham used to apparently take his own life.

Jail staff tried to revive Mecham, Mitchell said. An ambulance transported him to Uintah Basin Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Mecham had a long criminal history, according to state court records, which show convictions for drug possession, DUI, obstruction of justice and trespassing. He was on probation at the time of his death after pleading guilty in December to two counts of theft, a third-degree felony.

Mecham also pleaded guilty two days before his death to charges of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult involving criminal negligence, disorderly conduct, purchase of alcohol by an interdicted person and intoxication, all misdemeanors. Mecham was scheduled to be sentenced March 18.

Alexis Rasmussen, Mecham's niece, still hadn't viewed her uncle's body Monday, but said other family members have reported bruises on the body that have her "really, really concerned." Still, she believes her uncle "probably did" kill himself.

"I think he finally gave up," she said. "He was a really cool guy, but he had a drinking problem."

Despite that drinking problem and the contact it caused with law enforcement, Rasmussen believes the jail should have done more to prevent Mecham's death.

"That really bothers me," she said. "It makes me feel sick."

The booking process at the Duchesne County Jail does include standard questions meant to assess whether an inmate is a suicide risk, Mitchell said. Those questions were asked and the answers Mecham provided didn't raise any concerns, he said.

If Mecham's death is ruled a suicide, it would be the first in nearly 14 years at the jail, Mitchell said.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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