Bristol County Report On Inmate Suicides Leaves Out Key Details

WGBH and New England Center for Investigative Reporting
March 18, 2018
By Chris Burrell and Jenifer McKim

Nine months ago, Kellie Pearson was driving in Fall River when she got a frantic call from her daughter telling her to call the Bristol County jail immediately. Pearson dialed and got an officer at the jail.

“I knew,” said Pearson in a recent interview. “When she got on the phone, she’s like, ‘Are you driving?’ And I said, ‘I am.’ She said, ‘I need you to pull over.’ I said ‘No, no.’”

Pearson’s fiancée, Michael Ray, the father of her teenage daughter, was in that jail for 20 months, awaiting trial on charges of armed robbery.

“And I just said, ‘Please, please tell me, is Michael, OK?’ And she said, ‘I’m sorry ma’am, he’s gone.’ I just screamed this guttural scream.”

Ray was the most recent suicide in the Bristol County House of Correction.

Bonnie Tenneriello, an attorney with Boston-based Prisoners’ Legal Services, questions Bristol’s internal assessment.

“Any report on suicide that was authored by jail administrators — they have a vested interest in minimizing the problems,” she said. “An outside investigation is really a much tougher look.”

In January, Tenneriello helped three current inmates with mental illness file a lawsuit against Hodgson’s department, claiming they were subjected to harsh and humiliating punishment instead of getting treatment.

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