A man died in the custody of the Orleans Parish sheriff Friday night, about two hours after he arrived at an intake facility on a charge of heroin possession.
In a news release, Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman called the death of Michael Hitzman, 31, an apparent suicide.
Hitzman is the fourth inmate to die this year while in the custody of the sheriff’s office.
Hitzman arrived at the sheriff’s Intake and Processing Center at about 5 p.m. Friday. He was screened by medical staff, who observed wounds on his forearms consistent with intravenous drug use, the news release said.
According to the release, a physician prescribed an antibiotic and scheduled a follow-up appointment.
Hitzman initially appeared calm but subsequently attempted to leave through the emergency doors and began exhibiting “belligerent, uncooperative” behavior, according to the sheriff’s office.
For his own safety and the safety of others, Hitzman was placed into an individual holding cell at around 6 p.m., the news release said.
At 7:14 p.m., a deputy found that Hitzman had apparently attached his T-shirt to the cell door and strangled himself. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
“At no time during the booking and screening process for this arrest, or any prior arrests, or during any of his prior incarcerations, did Hitzman express or exhibit any suicidal tendencies,” said an e-mail sent by sheriff’s office spokeswoman Mary Martin.
An autopsy is being conducted by the Orleans Parish coroner’s office.
Last month, two Orleans Parish Prison inmates died about an hour apart, though the deaths were unrelated.
About midday on March 30, Shedrick Godfrey, 48, died of an apparent heart attack while working a community service detail with other inmates. About an hour later Chris Blevins, 22, died from a stab wound to the chest suffered during a lunchtime fight with another inmate.
Richard Scearce, 60, who was arrested after a daylong standoff with New Orleans police last fall, died of cardiac arrest Jan. 19 while in custody of the sheriff’s office. Scearce died at the Interim LSU Public Hospital, where he had been transferred for treatment of a urinary tract infection, Gusman’s office said.
Scearce had barricaded himself inside his Uptown apartment Oct. 30 after receiving an eviction notice. He fired an assault rifle several times and set fire to his home, police said.
In December, Gusman and several of his staff members were sued by the father of a New Orleans woman who died in restraints in the jail’s psychiatric unit.
Cayne Miceli, 43, had a history of asthma, panic attacks and depression but was denied adequate medical care after she arrived at the jail in January 2009, the suit alleges. Miceli was arrested after allegedly biting a police officer who tried to remove her from Tulane Medical Center, where she had been treated for an asthma attack.
A U.S. Department of Justice report last year raised numerous concerns about the jail’s medical services.
The report — which Gusman said was outdated and ignored post-Katrina difficulties — mostly singled out the jail’s mental health care procedures. It criticized the jail’s use of restraints on a tier reserved for mentally ill patients and the facility’s procedures for preventing suicide and dispensing medication to inmates.
The report did not criticize screenings for other medical problems at the intake and processing center, and it concluded that other aspects of the jail’s medical care met constitutional mandates.