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Sheriff's office: Virginia Beach inmate's death a suicide

The Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office said it was the first inmate death by suicide at the jail in 10 years.
Credit: Thinkstock

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — An inmate at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center died by suicide over the weekend, the Sheriff's Office said, adding it was the first death by suicide at the jail in 10 years.

According to the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office, a deputy was conducting a routine security check just after midnight on Sunday when 50-year-old Carlton Lee Lawson unresponsive in his jail cell.

He received medical attention from jail medical staff, as well as Virginia Beach Fire and Emergency Medical Services, but was declared dead just before 1 a.m.

Deputies said Lawson had been booked into the jail on July 29 on charges of felony driving while intoxicated (third conviction within 10 years) and misdemeanor driving without a license. He was denied bond and held for detoxification. After completing detox, he was moved into a cell without a roommate, which is where he was when he was found unresponsive.

The Sheriff's Office said he was given a medical and mental health screening beforehand, and that nothing indicated he was suicidal.

"One death by suicide is one death too many," said Sheriff Ken Stolle in a news release. "I never want anyone to die in this jail and I do everything in my power to prevent that from happening."

Lawson's death is being investigated by Virginia Beach Police and Sheriff's Office, and it was also reported to the Virginia Department of Corrections. His cause and manner of death was determined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Norfolk.

The Sheriff's Office said all inmates receive a comprehensive medical and mental health screening during the intake process, which includes looking for signs of mental illness, their past and present mental health status, history of depression and suicidal tendencies.

Every inmate is reportedly asked the following:

  • Do you feel depressed at this time?
  • Do you have anything to look forward to in the immediate future?
  • Have you recently experienced a significant loss?
  • Are you thinking of hurting or killing yourself?
  • Have you considered suicide in the last 3 months?
  • Have you ever attempted suicide?
  •  Has a family member/close friend every attempted or committed suicide?

The Sheriff's Office said it intervened in 14 suicide attempts at the jail last year, saving the life of the person in every case. 

The last in-custody suicide at the jail was in March of 2010.

"My heart goes out to the Lawson family for their tragic loss," Stolle said.

If you are or someone you know is struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.