Prosecutor: No charges in Jennings jail death


NORTH VERNON — Jennings County Jail staff members were cleared Tuesday of any criminal wrongdoing in the jail death earlier this year of inmate Sandra Ray.

“The office of the Jennings County Prosecuting Attorney finds that no crimes were committed by employees and/or other inmates of the Jennings County Jail related to the death of Ray and that no criminal charges are warranted,” concludes a report released Tuesday by Jennings County Prosecutor Brian Belding.

Ray, 35, of North Vernon, was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated on the afternoon of May 24 by a Jennings County Sheriff’s Office officer. She then tested with a blood alcohol concentration of .267, more than three times the legal limit, the report says.

She was placed on an alcohol withdrawal assessment watch, according to the report, and jailers checked on her on the evening of May 24, the early morning hours of May 25 and about 24 hours later. A jailer entered her cell at 7:37 a.m. May 26 and found her unresponsive, the report says. Attempts at “advanced life support” failed.

An autopsy that morning determined Ray’s cause of death was complications from chronic alcoholism and withdrawal. Indiana State Police were notified of the jail death and undertook an investigation.

“The state police investigator watched the entirety of the video surveillance and did not observe any act or omission by anyone that interacted with Ray while she was in the custody of the Jennings County Jail that would constitute a crime,” Belding wrote in his report. “Furthermore, the Indiana State Police investigator interviewed all jail personnel that came into contact with Ray while she was in the custody of the Jennings County Jail. Based on those interviews, there was no additional evidence that any person intentionally, knowingly, recklessly committed an act or omission that would constitute a crime.”

According to the review of jail video, Ray appeared to take her final breath at about 3:41 a.m. May 26, nearly four hours before a jailer found her unresponsive in her cell.

Whether jail staff may have negligently breached a duty of care to Ray, Belding wrote, “is a matter of civil law and not criminal law.”

“Based on the Medical Intake Assessment, jail staff posted a sign on (Ray’s cell) that stated, ‘Alcohol Withdraw’ and the alcohol withdraw assessment/watch which is a form that staff fills out each time an inmate is checked,” Belding wrote.

Under that protocol, Belding wrote, staff are to monitor inmates every hour for the first four hours and every two hours thereafter, and seek medical attention if needed.

“Ray was checked on May 24, 2022, at 6:56 p.m. It was noted that she was oriented, and she was agitated. Ray was checked again on May 25 at 1 a.m. and it was noted on the form that she was agitated, tremors, and was sweating. The staff member had a conversation with Ray and Ray stated that she did not feel good. The staff member told Ray that if she has any distress to press the emergency button …

“A physician or nurse was not called after the second check. The third check was on May 26 at 1:30 a.m. It was noted on the form that Ray was asleep. The staff member did not go through the check list with Ray due to her being asleep. Staff members interacted with Ray when meals were served and did not note anything unusual except one staff member said that she had not eaten very much.”

“… The jail commander stated that a doctor or nurse practitioner should have been called about the situation after the book-in process since Ray indicated that she likely would withdraw from alcohol. The Jail Commander also stated that a separate medical protocol should have been completed,” according to the report.

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