Fifth death reported by the Allegheny County Jail this year

By Brittany Hailer

Another individual incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail has died.

Paul Allen, 55, died at UPMC Mercy Hospital Saturday, October 9 after being transferred to the jail’s medical unit. Jail medical staff called 911 and Allen was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to an email sent for Warden Orlando Harper to the Jail Oversight Board (JOB).

Allen is the fifth person to die in the jail’s custody this year and the tenth to die since April 2020, after the jail went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (PINJ) published the list of names of men who have died on September 27 after the jail reported three deaths in one month.

At October’s JOB meeting, a written public comment submitted raised questions about John Brady, a man who died in November 2020, whose death was not reported to the JOB. PINJ published an investigation into his death and the jail’s failure to notify the board. The commenter asked why Brady’s death was not reported to the board and what the board is doing to ensure that all people who die in the jail’s custody are reported and investigated.

President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark who chairs the JOB asked Warden Orlando Harper to clarify what the investigatory procedures are for death at the jail and if the warden receives cause of death information from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner. She also asked if the jail can release that information to the board.

Harper said that an investigation is conducted by Allegheny County Police when an incarcerated person dies at the jail or in a hospital.

Deputy Warden Laura Williams clarified that the jail does not have a final report from the medical examiner and the manner of death is not released by the jail but can be released from the medical examiner’s office.

Williams said whether an individual is still in legal custody of the jail determines if the jail will report the death to the jail oversight board or the public.

“If someone is in our custody and we send them to a local hospital and they are no longer in our legal custody, I am not speaking about the physical presence in our building…if they are no longer incarcerated–a determination made by the courts, not by us, we don’t have the right to the protected health information of those individuals. We do not have the right to report on that individual.”

County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam, a JOB member, asked Williams to define legal custody and Williams explained that judges can file for a 6A release. A judge can release an incarcerated person from custody if they are “severely” or “critically” ill, according to Williams. She said when a person is granted a 6A, they are “No longer on our count.”

Jail administrators can ask the courts for a permanent 6A release, or a temporary release, Williams said in the meeting.

“There are people who may be released from our care” who may be hospitalized after their release, or who the magistrate has determined do not have to return to the jail, Williams said. When that happens, she said, “I do not have the outcomes of those individuals.”

“There are a number of circumstances when the jail has advocated for the release of individuals and we will continue to do so,” said Williams.

Hallam wrote in an email to PINJ that she believes county leadership and the jail administration have demonstrated a failure of management.

“County Executive Fitzgerald has deflected every question concerning the atrocious conditions at the jail, claiming he does not want to ‘micro-manage’ Warden Harper’s work. He has shielded Harper as well, stating the warden has his ‘full support’, even as abuses proliferate and deaths continue to mount. ACJ is a death trap: Every community member held there right now is in danger,” Hallam wrote.

Hallam pointed to Rikers Island Jail in New York City, which has reported 12 deaths in the past year. While Allegheny’s 2021 death count is five, Rikers houses nearly 6,000 incarcerated persons and Allegheny County’s current population is 1,645.

“With a death rate almost double that of the infamous Rikers Island Jail in New York City, there is no longer denying this plain fact: the Allegheny County Jail is simply not safe for our fellow community members locked up there,” Hallam wrote.

Brittany Hailer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @BrittanyHailer.