Death in the jailhouse
An inmate in custody of the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office was pronounced dead Monday, January 4. The events leading to his death have been called into question, as the sheriff’s report differs from an eyewitness account.
Saturday, January 2, 2021
Basile resident Eric James Melton, age 45, was arrested for Schedule II - Prohibited Acts and traffic laws applying to persons riding bicycles. Melton was booked into the Evangeline Parish Jail at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, January 2, 2021.
An eyewitness, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was present that weekend up until the time the paramedics arrived. He said Melton was throwing up Saturday night and saying he needed his insulin. “It got worse, and they wouldn’t give him medical attention,” said the witness.
Sheriff Charles R. Guillory said the corrections officers (guards) have cell block checks in the morning and afternoon. He said there were no complaints to the correction officers about Melton being ill over the weekend. However, Guillory said the correction officers offered Melton to call his wife Saturday night to bring him his medicine, but said Melton declined.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
The witness stated Melton grew worse as the weekend progressed. He further said Melton was “raising hell the whole time, hollering ‘I need my insulin.’ He kept saying, ‘I’m going to die if y’all don’t give me my medicine.’ He knew he was in trouble. They wouldn’t do anything.”
According to the witness, Melton was still vomiting on Sunday. “It was terrible,” he said. “He was telling them, ‘This ain’t good, this ain’t good. I need to go to the hospital. I need my insulin.’ They told him, ‘You’re just coming off of drugs. You’re going to be all right. Sleep it off.’ They didn’t even see about him.”
Further, the witness stated, “I don’t know much about diabetes, but he (Melton) said his diabetic pain hurt so bad. He was crying. He was begging them for help. The second you say you need medical attention, they’re supposed to get you checked out, whether you need it or you don’t. It’s the doctor who determines that, not them.”
Guillory said the officers called Melton’s wife Sunday morning to bring his insulin, and she said she would go, but she did not go until Monday.
When Melton’s wife, Mona, could not locate her husband, she assumed he had been arrested because he does suffer from drug addiction. Mona said she called the sheriff’s office Sunday night, and they told her he was in jail. She said the sheriff’s office did not contact her at any point that weekend. According to Mona, when she spoke to the sheriff’s office Sunday night, she asked about his medical condition. She was told he was detoxing. She then informed them her husband was a severe diabetic and needed insulin. Mona said they told her she could bring it. She and Melton had been staying with his parents in Basile because their home in Sulphur was destroyed by Hurricane Delta. She told them she did not have a ride to Ville Platte, but would go the next day. Mona said she asked them to keep an eye on him because of the seriousness of his condition.
According to the witness, by Sunday night, Melton was lying on the floor of the recreation area of the dorm. “He wasn’t getting up or puking anymore. Just lying there. He wasn’t talking or saying anything, just moaning. He moaned all night long.”
Monday, January 4, 2021
According to the report Guillory was given, on the day he died, Melton was in his cell and notified the corrections officers he was not feeling well. When officers checked him, they immediately called for an ambulance. The ambulance arrived and transported him to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Ville Platte. Later that day, the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office received notification that Melton had passed away at the hospital.
According to the witness, Melton was still lying on the same spot on the floor of the dorm on Monday morning. “He wasn’t getting up. He said nothing. He just moaned. They served breakfast. They served lunch. He never got up to get his food. They just didn’t pay him any mind.”
After lunch time Monday, the witness said Melton got quiet. That was when one of the inmates looked at him and said he was dead. The inmates informed the guards on duty, and the paramedics were called. As the paramedics worked on Melton, some of the prisoners told them, “This guy’s been begging for his medicine for two days, or to bring him to the hospital to get his insulin, but they never did.” The witness said the guards then took the inmates out of the dorm, away from the paramedics.
When Mona arrived at the jail Monday around lunch time, she said the paramedics where there and she heard voices shouting from the dorm area, but could not understand what was being said. “When I got there, all they told me was there was a situation,” she said. “I waited almost an hour before somebody finally came talk to me to tell me there was a problem with him.” She said the jailer told her Melton was talking to him about 30 minutes before the jailer found him lying on the floor on the morning he passed.
When asked about the video cameras at the jail, Guillory said there have had issues with them in the past. “Sometimes they break, and the police jury goes and repairs them,” he said. The police jury is responsible for the jail and the cameras.
According to police jury president Ryan LeDay Williams, the police jury received a grant a couple of years ago to update the cameras in the courthouse. To his knowledge, the cameras are in working order, including the cameras on the jail cells.
The tech company in charge of maintaining the cameras at the courthouse, said their office had not received any calls for technical support since October 8, 2020. According to the company, that call was because there was an issue with accessing the cameras on the computers because the police jury had switched internet service providers. There was no malfunction with the cameras. Further, he said the cameras only record video, not audio.
Guillory said the courthouse computers lack the storage to save video footage from the jail for more than four to seven days because there are around 25 cameras which fill up storage capacity quickly. He said by the time his deputy, who acts as the IT person, looked for the footage, it had already been recorded over with new footage. Guillory said, “We have no deleting capabilities whatsoever.”
The tech company said the duplicate video footage is stored for three weeks to 30 days at the company’s office.
District Attorney Trent Brignac said his office is investigating the matter but could not comment further.
Guillory said the Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office conducted an autopsy and toxicity screen on Melton, which he said is standard protocol. Results are pending. He said they received the urinalysis from the hospital, showing Melton was on methamphetamine.
When asked if the jail has a nurse on the weekends, Guillory said they have a nurse who makes rounds during the weekday, but not on the weekends. He said the police jury, who is in charge of the jail, was asked to provide a nurse on the weekends, but it was not in the budget. He said if there is a medical problem on the weekends, someone is called, but the jailers have to use their judgement. The assistant warden pops in and out on holidays and weekends, but the assistant warden told him he received no complaints when he went in that weekend.
When told of the witness’ account, Melton’s widow said she was led to believe he died as a result of complications from detoxing. With tears, Mona said, “That’s what we couldn’t understand. Why wouldn’t he ask for his insulin, because we know he would have?”
Mona said he had diabetic neuropathy, which coincides with the witness’ account of Melton saying he was in pain. According to Mona, Melton usually keeps his medicine with him in a bag, but he had taken the medicine out of the bag and put a camera in it to sell it. That’s why he didn’t have his medicine on him when he was arrested.” With heavy emotion, Mona said she wished she could have made it to the jail that Sunday night. “They could have brought him to the hospital,” she cried. “The hospital could have given him what he needed.”