Recent focus on the deaths of incarcerated individuals at the Allegheny County Jail raises questions: Are all deaths reported? And what details are released?

By Brittany Hailer

Earlier this month, Martin Bucek, 55, was found unresponsive in his cell at the Allegheny County Jail and transported to UPMC Mercy, where he was pronounced dead. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner reported the death, but has not yet released a cause of death, pending toxicology test results.

Bucek’s family is still searching for answers. They say they were never contacted by jail administrators about his death, but rather heard from Allegheny County Police.

Allegheny County Councilwoman and member of the Jail Oversight Board (JOB), Bethany Hallam said she found out about Bucek’s death from incarcerated persons at the jail and members of the media. She heard from those sources before it was reported to the JOB by jail administration.

At a vigil for Bucek held outside of the jail last week, a list of incarcerated people who have died at the ACJ since 2000 was distributed to everyone in attendance. Often, jail officials do not disclose many details on the deaths, and some deaths have not been reported to the JOB or to the public by the county or jail administration.

One of them is the death of John Brady.

Eight months before Martin Bucek died, on November 20, 2020, John Brady, 40, was also found unresponsive at the county jail and rushed to UPMC Mercy. Like Bucek’s family, Brady’s family, too, has questions which remain unanswered.

Jail records and family interviews show that John Brady had been in respiratory failure for 15 hours when his mother spoke with Deputy Warden Laura Williams.

Williams had left a voicemail on the phone of his mother, Patricia Cross, the night before, but Cross missed that phone call. When she answered Williams’ second call around 1:00 p.m. the next day, she said Williams told her that her son was on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit at UPMC Mercy.

Ten days later, Cross signed papers to take her son off life support. John Brady died six hours after being taken off a ventilator at Mercy Hospital.

Councilmember Hallam wrote in an email to the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (PINJ) that she does not recall receiving any information about Brady’s death in November 2020:

“Unfortunately that’s not all that surprising. The jail has at other times considered the death of someone who was previously in their custody, but were at a hospital at the time of their death declaration, as something other than a ‘death at the jail’, and therefore chose not to inform the Board of their passing. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Jail Oversight Board should absolutely be notified any time there is a death of someone who is currently in the jail, was in the jail prior to hospitalization, or whose death could potentially be directly related to treatment received at the jail or a lack of treatment at the jail,” she wrote.

Hallam also wrote that there have been over 70 people whose deaths have been reported in the county jail in the past two decades and that number is likely an undercount.

“Because, as I mentioned, the jail often does not ‘count’ those who die in the hospital as having died ‘in the jail’, depending on the circumstances,” she wrote.

Hallam wrote that the JOB’s primary responsibility is, “the oversight of the health and safekeeping of inmates.”

“Every preventable death that occurs at ACJ is a travesty and an indictment of us all, especially those in leadership who can and must work to change the jail—and the wider criminal punishment system more broadly, including police, prosecutors, and the courts—from top to bottom to ensure that number, for this next two decades, is zero,” Hallam wrote.

John Brady is the sixth known county jail death since May 2020.

Media inquiries for departments under the executive branch are coordinated through the Director of Communications, Aime Downs. The Allegheny County Jail is a part of the executive branch under the authority of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. Downs did not return requests for comment.

President Judge and JOB chair Kimberley Berkley Clark could not be reached for comment.

John Brady’s Death

County jail medical and internal records obtained by PINJ were used to piece together the timeline of events leading to John Brady’s hospitalization and death.

Those records show that John Brady was booked at the jail around 4:00 a.m on Nov. 20, 2020 for driving under the influence.

John Brady’s intake evaluation from 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 20 shows that he appeared intoxicated and anxious, but was medically cleared for incarceration. His toxicology urine screening lists opiates, oxycodone and methadone present in his system.

At approximately 5:08 p.m. John Brady was given the detox medications loperamide, promethazine, clonidine, and hydroxyzine, according to the notes written by Williams.

At 8:15 p.m., John Brady was found unresponsive in his cell.

Correctional Officers performed CPR on him until medical staff arrived and administered naloxone (more commonly known as Narcan), a drug that can treat an overdose in emergency situations.

​​According to jail records, before the paramedics arrived at 8:29 p.m, jail staff had administered four doses of nasal naloxone and one dose of intravenous naloxone. John Brady never regained consciousness.

Brady was transferred to UPMC Mercy at 8:40 p.m. and placed on a ventilator, records show. He remained on a ventilator for 10 days without recovering before his mother said she signed the papers for removal.

Recent Deaths inside the ACJ

On Thanksgiving 2020, Daniel Pastorek, a 63-year-old man who struggled with alcoholism, died at the jail as reported by the Pittsburgh Current, four days after John Brady was transferred to UPMC Mercy.

On October 10, 2020, Cody Still, 29, died at UPMC Mercy hospital after an “incident” in the Allegheny County Jail, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The P-G reported: “County spokesperson Amie Downs said Mr. Still was booked in and went to the hospital on the same day for a suspected overdose.”

Hallam wrote in an email to PINJ that she is not aware of any policy or procedure in place at the jail to manage or prevent overdoses: “… other than a naloxone use video that plays on a loop on the pod TVs while not even giving incarcerated folks readily available access to naloxone in their cells if it is needed. This does not mean there is not one, but I have no knowledge of such a policy,” Hallam wrote.

Hallam says that the only policies she has been able to view are the policies shared on the jail’s website. “The warden and the rest of the jail and county administration continue to refuse to provide all of their policies to the Jail Oversight Board in an unredacted form, even though full access to the policies clearly fall within the ambit—and the responsibility!—of the Board per state statute,” she wrote.

According to an analysis of data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics released this year, the number of people who died of drug or alcohol intoxication in state prisons rose more than 600% between 2001 and 2018.

In county jails, overdose deaths increased by more than 200%. More than 1,000 people died in local jails in 2016 according to the report, with suicide listed as the leading cause.

Overall, overdose deaths in Allegheny County increased by 22% in 2020. The Medical Examiner and departments of Health and Human Services released reports on the opioid crisis in June of this year. According to the report, 30 percent of those who died of overdoses had involvement with adult probation and, “19% were booked in the Allegheny County Jail at some point in the year prior to death.”

“How does this happen?”

Williams wrote in John Brady’s medical records that, “The treating physician identified that they had reduced his body temperature, that he was intubated on a ventilator … and his prognosis

was very poor as indicated by posturing and limited to minimal neural activity. There is not a belief that he would be able to recover from this.”

When John Brady’s sister Kelly Brady arrived at UPMC Mercy, doctors informed her that her brother was, “effectively brain dead” and that he had been, “deprived of oxygen for a sustained amount of time.”

According to the autopsy report, John Brady was admitted to Mercy, “for anoxic brain injury following cardiac arrest.” The autopsy concludes by stating: “John Brady … died as a result of complications of opioid toxicity. Pulmonary hypertension contributed to his demise.”

John Brady was the father of five children. His family described him as a helper–always cleaning the house and mowing the lawn–and a man who loved kids. Every morning, he’d bring his niece a popsicle, cut in two for both of them to share.

“As soon as her eyes popped open, he had a popsicle for her. Brea cries every day about that man, ever since the funeral,” said John Brady’s sister-in-law, Brandy Brady.

John Brady’s substance use disorder put him in contact with the criminal justice system in January 2020. He was incarcerated at the jail and then later released. At that time, he applied to the jail’s substance use program. In his application, he wrote, “I have a serious drug problem. I would like to get the help I need before I return to the community.”

He wrote that he wanted to work on his addictive behaviors and “learn how to be responsible and learn what I can so I can later try to help someone else.”

Ten months later, John Brady was taken to the county jail again, still struggling with substance use disorder. He was rushed to the hospital in less than 24 hours.

Kelly Brady said she misses her brother every day and the lack of support from the jail has made the trauma of his death harder on her family. She said their questions surrounding his death have gone unanswered and the family is hurt and angered by the jail’s lack of communication.

“No one ever came to my door,” said Cross. “I’ve called the Warden a bunch of times and he’s never answered.”

Both Cross and Kelly Brady say that Deputy Warden Williams has stopped returning their calls.

“We kept calling Laura Williams and she quit answering. She said that there was another guy in [the cell] with him … He was housed in intake with all those people around. How does this happen?” Kelly Brady asked.

Kelly Brady said she continued to call Williams in an effort to understand just what resulted in her brother’s condition. How long had he been unresponsive in his cell before officers or medication staff responded? How long was he without oxygen?

“The doctors at Mercy told me he had been without oxygen for 15 to 20 minutes,” Kelly Brady said.

Kelly Brady also has questions about the substances in her brother’s system.

“He did have heroin in his system from hours before he entered the jail. Laura Williams told mom they gave him three different medicines. When we called to find out what those medications were, she stopped answering her phone,” she said.

Kelly Brady was able to identify those medications after obtaining her brother’s jail medical records through a request submitted to the jail’s record office through counsel.

Kelly Brady wishes the family could have gotten a private autopsy performed but said, “we had to cremate him because he didn’t have the money.” She worries about other families with loved ones housed at the jail. “It’s sad because someone else’s loved one just died down there,” she said.

Hallam said she wouldn’t wish detoxing from opioids at the jail on her “worst enemy.”

She wrote:

“I detoxed from opioids on the floor of the intake cell at the ACJ in august (sic) of 2016. … Yet to this day, that same dangerous withdrawal is being experienced by others who enter the jail. We call jails “corrections centers” yet there is no correction happening at the ACJ – the jail is nothing more than a holding center for folks that the county’s administration doesn’t know what else to do with. We need to treat the ACJ as a place where folks can get the help they need for substance use disorder, and learn the harm reduction tools needed to keep themselves safe.”

Brittany Hailer can be reached at