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Sheriff: Inmate dies after jumping from second story walkway

SALISBURY — An inmate awaiting transfer to state prison died today after apparently jumping Sunday from the second floor of the Rowan County Detention Center.

Richard James Cooley, 48, of Cooley Farm Road in Woodleaf, jumped from the second floor of the jail to the first floor around 1:30 p.m. Sunday during a recreational hour, according to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.

Cooley’s actions were captured on video surveillance footage that operates at all times in the jail. Sheriff Kevin Auten said the jump appeared to be intentional, and no one could be seen pushing or touching the inmate. It’s not clear, Auten said, whether he meant for the fall to kill him.

Cooley landed head first on the floor, near where a detention officer was stationed to monitor inmate activity. Detention staff immediately began to administer aid to Cooley, and the detention nurse was on scene within three minutes.

He was transported to Rowan Regional Medical Center for treatment, and he was later transported to Baptist Hospital where he was admitted there as a patient. The sheriff’s office received word at about 12:30 p.m. today that Cooley had died in the hospital.

Cooley pleaded guilty Friday in Superior Court to charges of possession of firearm by felon, a charge of driving while intoxicated and two counts of failure to appear in court for felony probation violation. He was sentenced to the following:

• 13 to 25 months for possession of firearm by felon

• 120 days for the driving while intoxicated charge

• 5 to 6 months for each count of the failure to appear in court for felony probation violation

The sentences were to all run concurrently.

Cooley was transported by bailiffs to the Rowan County Detention Center after court Friday and was booked in as an inmate. He was being held until he was accepted by the N.C. Department of Corrections, where he was to serve the sentence he received in court.

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