The twisted life of Ariel Castro might have come to an equally bizarre end: death by autoerotic asphyxiation.
The report issued yesterday by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction made repeated references to the fact that the Cleveland man — who was serving a life sentence, plus 1,000 years for kidnapping and holding three Cleveland women prisoner for up to a decade — gave no indication that he planned to kill himself before he was found hanging in his prison cell the night of Sept. 3.
“There appears to be no known, substantiated motivation for the self-inflicted death,” the agency report said.
Read the report (PDF)
The investigation of the second high-profile suicide in Ohio prisons in a little more than a month again faulted corrections officers for failing to complete their rounds and falsifying records to show they did.
The conclusion that Castro’s prison guards, Caleb Ackley, 26, and Ryan Murphy, 27, neglected their duty echoes results of an earlier probe in the Aug. 4 suicide of Death Row inmate Billy Slagle. Four officers in the two cases are currently suspended with pay pending further disciplinary action.
“Rounds were not properly completed. Post log books were falsified. There was no satisfactory verification process in place. Shift supervisors were not given clear direction on verification procedures and expectations,” the Castro report said.
For the first time, the report also revealed an unusual detail: Castro was found hanging with a bedsheet around his neck, attached to a window hinge in his cell, but his prison-issue pants and underwear were at his ankles.
Nearby in Castro’s cell the night of his death were his Bible, open to chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of John; a display of family photos; and two sheets of paper, one with Bible verses written on it and the other with the names of Castro’s children and grandchildren.
The report suggests, there is “the possibility” that Castro’s death resulted from “autoerotic asphyxiation,” a practice in which someone is sexually aroused by shutting of the supply of oxygen to their brain by choking or hanging. Autoerotic asphyxiation sometimes results in unintentional death.
Franklin County Coroner Dr. Jan Gorniak flatly rejects that speculation.
“I’m standing by my ruling, hanging by suicide,” she said. “Based on the totality of the scene, the pieces don’t fit that puzzle.”
Gorniak said she was never told that Castro was found hanging with his pants at his ankles. But she said that likely is not relevant because his clothing might have shifted in his death throes. Gorniak said she found no semen in her autopsy of Castro’s body.
Just as in the Slagle suicide, Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, challenged the investigative findings. He said the prison administration has a “ pattern of scapegoating front-line workers after a spate of high-profile prison suicides.”
“Why isn’t DR&C focused on the systemic and more-dangerous problems of increased violence, overcrowding or the need for mental-health services in our prisons?” Mabe said in a statement.
Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said as a result of the findings in the two suicides, the agency is “putting in place statewide a system of supervisors conducting random checks to verify that rounds are being conducted according to policy. This will be done on a weekly basis.”
Smith said despite the union’s assertion, the number of employees working in high-security and restrictive housing settings has not been reduced. However, the agency has reduced the overall number of corrections officers by several hundred due to cutbacks.
Smith said prisons Director Gary Mohr is meeting this week with Fred Cohen and Lindsay Hayes, independent consults hired by the agency to review suicide-prevention policies and make recommendations.
Castro, 53, pleaded guilty to nearly 1,000 counts related to his imprisonment of three women in his Cleveland home for a decade, including aggravated murder — for forcing one of the victims to miscarry, kidnapping and rape.
Corrections officers were supposed to check on Castro every half hour, notes the report, which was partially censored for security reasons. However, log entries verifying five of 10 rounds checks were falsified, investigators found. But the check less than a half-hour before Castro’s body was found had been completed properly, as was the one in which the discovery was made.
The probe noted that Castro left no suicide note, expressed no suicidal inclinations during family visits, and showed no suicidal tendencies in several assessments. He was not on suicide or mental-health watch.
The report also faulted the response time of the MedCare ambulance, which took 34 minutes to get to the prison after being called. The state’s contract requires a 15-minute response time, or that another ambulance company be called if they couldn’t make the run.
Castro was found at 9:18 the night of his death, but he was not pronounced dead at the hospital until about an hour and a half later.
By Alan Johnson and Darrel Rowland - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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