Choking death in Allegheny County Jail ruled an accident by medical examiner

By Brittany Hailer

A man accidentally choked to death in the Allegheny County Jail, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner.

Douglas Bonomo, 59, died in the Allegheny County Jail’s mental health unit on July 23. He choked to death on a paper towel, according to the medical examiner. 

Correctional officers discovered him around 7 a.m., unresponsive in his cell and notified a nurse, the county reported. After paramedics arrived, Bonomo was pronounced dead at approximately 7:20 a.m. 

Both county and jail spokespersons declined to comment for this story.

In January, Bonomo was booked, charged with  retail theft, theft by unlawful taking, evading arrest and disorderly conduct. After a competency evaluation in April, he was waiting to be  transferred to Torrance State Hospital.  At the time of his death in July, he was one of 31 inmates at the jail awaiting a transfer to Torrance, former Warden Orlando Harper said. 

Harper wrote in a July 23 press release, “We have a number of individuals with acute mental health needs at the facility who have been committed to Torrance. Until a bed opens, they must remain at the jail per the Courts …”

[The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and Spotlight PA published an investigation into the Pennsylvania incompetency system and how determining whether someone is mentally fit to stand trial in Pennsylvania often traps them in jails, and, how one woman became trapped in the Allegheny County Jail after being found incompetent to stand trial. Read here.]

Bonomo is the second incarcerated person to die in the jail’s mental health unit by choking. 

Martin Bucek died in a mental health unit in the jail by choking on food in July 2021. The medical examiner could not reach a determination of his manner of death. A year after he was found unresponsive, Martin Bucek’s ex-wife, Dolly Bucek, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county in federal court.

The lawsuit says Martin Bucek, 55, completed suicide inside the jail on July 3, 2021, and that the jail failed to prevent his suicide. Martin Bucek had a documented history of suicidal attempts and serious mental illness, according to the complaint. Bucek was also arrested following his assault on a nurse at St. Clair Hospital. 

While incarcerated, Bonomo was charged with indecent assault in March for making sexual comments to a Allegheny General Hospital nurse. He told her “God told me to say this.” He groped the nurse twice. 

Since April 2020, 21 men have died following their incarceration at the Allegheny County Jail.