BUFFALO, NY - It's the latest incident in a string of suicides and attempted suicides at the Erie County Holding Center in downtown Buffalo. A string that the U.S. Justice Department looked into last year.
"My son's in the holding center, he's safe right now," said Robert Crowley.
That's what Robert Crowley thought when his 26-year-old son Robert, who is bipolar, was arrested for what Crowley calls a minor infraction. The family didn't bail him out of jail because they thought he would be safer behind bars for the time being.
"I felt like ok, he was going to be in a medical ward, we were very sure, my son has this condition, we wanted to make sure he was getting his medication and everything else," said Crowley.
But Crowley says his son attempted to hang himself with his bed sheet last Wednesday. He says Robert went without oxygen for anywhere from four to eight minutes. Crowley says the sheriff's department told him they check on the inmates every 15 minutes and it was in between a check-up when the incident happened.
"You would think they would be extra careful with all the things that have been going on there and the bad press," said Trisha Crowley, Robert's sister.
Robert was taken to Erie County Medical Center after he was found alive. But Robert's family wasn't told about what happened and where their son was for two days. And it was just Monday morning when Crowley says his son opened his eyes for the first time after being in an induced coma.
Erie County Undersheriff Mark Wipperman confirms the suicide attempt and says the sheriff's office professional standards division is investigating.
In a statement Wipperman wrote;
"On Wednesday, May 4th, 2011, Erie County Sheriff's jail Management personnel did successfully prevent a suicide by a twenty-six (26) year old male inmate inside the Holding Center. The inmate was subsequently transported to a local hospital for medical care. The Sheriff's Office Police Services and Professional Standards Divisions immediately commenced an investigation. The investigation is still on-going at this time.
Sheriff's Office investigators conducted a post-incident canvass on the housing unit. They were told by another inmate that the twenty six year old male confided to him that he was very upset because his family failed to show up in court earlier in the day and he felt they had abandoned him. Unfortunately the inmate never reported this to any of our staff prior to the incident.
The inmate's family did contact the Sheriff's Office threatening to call the media and retain an attorney regarding the timeliness of their notification. We take this complaint very seriously and we are investigating the allegations that have been reported to us to determine if any policies or procedures have been violated.
The Erie County Sheriff's Officer is limited on the disclosure of any additional information or details about this incident because of HIPPA privacy regulations and other applicable statues dealing with the confidentiality and security of a patient's health and mental health treatment. "
But Crowley just doesn't want any other parent to go through what he is.
"I definitely feel there's a failure in the system someplace," said Crowley.
Crowley says the superintendent of the holding center called him Monday afternoon and apologized because the family wasn't notified about what happened for two days and said there's likely something in their system they can fix so it doesn't happen again.
As for Robert's health, his family says it's still not clear if he will come out of this with any brain damage or other problems.
A spokesperson for Erie County Medical Center said they could not comment on any prisoners brought in for treatment