Sheriff: Inmate dies after jumping from second-story walkway at jail

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 19, 2013

SALISBURY — An inmate awaiting transfer to state prison died Monday 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.

He had been there less than 48 hours, and he was facing a total prison sentence of about one to two years.

Cooley’s actions were captured on video surveillance footage that operates at all times in the county jail.

“The surveillance that we’ve looked at shows that it was action initiated by himself, with no other officers or inmates involved,” said Sheriff Kevin Auten at a press conference Monday. “I don’t know that he meant to kill himself.”

After his first-floor single cell opened, Auten said, he went upstairs to a second-story walkway and stayed there for four minutes before jumping from it. No other officers or prisoners appeared to come into contact with Cooley at that time, the sheriff said.

Cooley fell 12 feet and 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, the sheriff’s office said.

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. Monday that Cooley had died in the hospital.

Until his fall, officers noticed no unusual behavior from Cooley and reported no problems up to that point.

“I hate to be standing here talking about this,” Auten said. “You try to do what you can do to safeguard the prisoners as it’s required, and when something like this happens, it’s hard to swallow.”

He said there hasn’t been a death at the jail in several years, and he isn’t sure when the last one took place.

Auten offered condolences to Cooley’s family, and he said the sheriff’s office will do whatever it can to provide a safe environment at the jail.

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.

In May of 2012, Cooley was convicted of three felony counts of carrying a concealed weapon without a license. He was sentenced to 24 months of supervised probation.

Cooley was due back in court this Wednesday for two additional felony weapons charges. He was also due to appear in court on March 4 on charges of operating a vehicle with no insurance and no registration.