News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 10, 2013

Arrest made in Vigo jail inmate’s death

Alleged victim told police he had been in an altercation prior to his arrest

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A Terre Haute man was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of an inmate at the Vigo County Jail early Tuesday morning.

James “Jimmy” Ross, 39, was arrested at about 5 p.m. Wednesday at his residence by Terre Haute Police detectives investigating the death of William Powell, 48, of Terre Haute.

Detective Sgt. Jason Czupryn told the Tribune-Star that more information about the arrest could be released later today.

Meanwhile, the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department has completed its investigation into Powell’s death.

Sheriff Greg Ewing told the Tribune-Star on Wednesday that Powell was initially rejected as an inmate in the jail when Terre Haute Police brought the intoxicated man to be booked in after they arrested him on a city court warrant late Sunday.

Powell was found unresponsive in his cell at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. An autopsy on Wednesday ruled the manner of death as homicide, and listed the cause of death as peritonitis from a ruptured bowel, according to Vigo County Coroner Susan Amos.

According to Terre Haute Police, Powell told officers he had been in an altercation before his arrest.

Ewing said that Powell’s high blood-alcohol content — 0.27 percent — and his visible head injury prompted jail staff to request a medical exam and clearance before Powell could be booked in. Indiana’s threshold for intoxication is 0.08.

A review of the “calls for service” on the night that Powell was arrested shows that police were called to the 1800 block of North Eighth Street at 10:55 p.m. after a caller to Central Dispatch reported “a white male in his 50s wearing a camouflage jacket and wrapped in a blanket asking to call the police,” according to a written record of the call to dispatch. The caller also noted that it “looks like the side of his face may be swollen.”

Police who responded to the call found Powell to be intoxicated, and arrested him after determining that he was wanted for bond revocation.

He was transported to the county jail, where video surveillance shows Powell being transported away from the jail by THPD officers at 11:29 p.m. Powell was then returned 33 minutes later at 12:04 a.m., Ewing said.

 With an estimated drive time of seven minutes to the emergency room at Terre Haute Regional Hospital where Powell was examined, the sheriff estimated, that leaves about 19 minutes for the man’s status to be assessed before he was cleared by hospital staff to be booked into the jail.

Regional Hospital declined comment again Wednesday morning for the second day in a row, citing the ongoing investigation.

All jail video of Powell and other jail information about his time in the jail Monday and Tuesday has been archived, the sheriff said,

After being booked in, Powell was placed in temporary holding, which is located near the book-in area, where it is easy for staff to observe inmates. Jail records show Powell remained in temporary holding from 12:06 a.m. Monday until 4:28 p.m. Monday, which is more than 16 hours.

During that time, he was seen by the medical staff at 11 a.m. because of his complaint of pain. After he was moved to the jail’s G-block at 4:28 p.m., he was seen again at 8:30 p.m. by medical staff on a complaint of pain. Powell was scheduled for a “sick call” by the jail’s medical staff on the morning that he died.

Inmates in the same four-person cell as Powell reported the man as unresponsive about 2:30 a.m. and he was later pronounced dead at the jail.

Ewing said the investigation revealed that some of the inmates who were aware that Powell was not feeling well alerted jail staff when he became unresponsive.

When jail staff conducted an hourly watch tour of the inmate area via the catwalk, Ewing said, no inmates said anything about Powell other than that he was sleeping. It was about eight hours after he had been moved into G-block that he was reported to be unresponsive.

At that time, jail staff grabbed a “jump kit” and started first response to Powell, Ewing said.

“He was not laying there long before he was reported as unresponsive,” the sheriff said of Powell.

Ewing said it has been more than 10 years since an inmate death had occurred at the Vigo County Jail.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the Terre Haute Police continued the investigation into how Powell became injured before his arrest.

Amos, the county coroner, ruled the death of Powell a homicide, as revealed by an autopsy performed Wednesday morning at Regional Hospital by forensic pathologist Dr. Roland Kohr.

Amos said that Powell’s cause death was peritonitis, which resulted from a perforated bowel in the abdominal cavity. She indicated that it appeared the perforated bowel was caused by trauma to Powell’s abdomen.

Terre Haute Police report that when they arrested Powell, of Terre Haute, he told officers he had been involved in a fight. However, he did not give additional information about the altercation at the time of his arrest.

Amos said that Powell had no abdominal bruising when he was presented at Regional Hospital for examination, and he made no complaint of abdominal pain at that time that would have led to the discovery of abdominal trauma.

Peritonitis should be painful, Amos said, adding that Powell may not have felt the pain because of his level of intoxication when he was arrested.

As the homicide investigation continued Wednesday, THPD Assistant Chief Shawn Keen told the Tribune-Star that detectives from the violent crimes unit were trying to track down and interview potential witnesses to the fight in which Powell was reportedly injured.

Powell did not reside in the neighborhood where he was arrested, Keen said. The man had been at an acquaintance’s house before going to the nearby location where he was arrested.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.