Family of 17-year-old detainee who died by suicide files wrongful death lawsuit

CHARLOTTE — The family of a 17-year-old detainee, who authorities said died by suicide in 2020, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging state and county employees, including Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, didn’t do enough to protect the teen.

[ALSO READ: Inmate held at Mecklenburg County jail dies, sheriff confirms]

DJ was arrested in Rockingham County and sent to juvenile detention in Alexander County. He was then sent to Mecklenburg County’s Jail North on Nov. 20, 2020.

That night, his mother, Adrianna Blackwell, said she spoke to him by phone.

“He was joking. He didn’t have any distress in his voice or nothing. He was fine,” she said.

But the next day, she said she got a call that DJ was being rushed to the hospital. She later learned he died by suicide.

“It just felt like my soul was taken out my body when I found out my baby was gone,” Blackwell said.

Now, attorneys representing the family have filed a lawsuit saying correction officers should have checked on DJ every 10 minutes and that his cell was filled with items that he could use to harm himself.

“Completely alone, he was left to his own thoughts for endless hours. Then, he was provided the chosen and most obvious methods of suicide: bedsheets, sharp objects, and a metal fixture from which to tie bedsheets,” the lawsuit said.

Attorney Micheal Littlejohn said jail records show that while in custody, staff noted serious concerns about DJ’s mental health and said he was placed on “suicide alert.”

“Suicides are a tragedy, period. Jail suicides are as well. However, more likely than not, jail suicides are preventable,” Littlejohn said. “The defendants here did not have the proper policies and procedures in place to prevent something like this from happening.”

DJ was allegedly found hanging from a bedsheet attached to a metal grate in the ceiling of his cell. The lawsuit said he left a suicide note written in pencil -- a sharp object that the lawsuit claims he should not have had.

[ALSO READ: Family files lawsuit after man dies in CMPD custody]

“I feel like it should be communicated to parents, that if their child is on suicide watch or if their child is on suicide alert, that their parents are notified that your child is showing these type of indications,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell told Channel 9′s Erica Bryant that she was so proud of the intelligent, athletic and kind young man that her son would become. She said he was her rock as she battled breast cancer.

“He’d say, ‘Mommy, no worries. You’re going be fine. I’m going make sure you’re okay … I’m gonna always be there and take care of you. No matter what,’” Blackwell said.

Nothing will bring her son back, but Blackwell hopes that sharing her story will save others.

“That procedures and processes get changed in the juvenile facilities anywhere, even with grown inmates,” she said. “I just want for parents to know that you also have rights. They have rights. Also the inmates have rights, that juveniles have rights. I want these things to change, because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

Statement from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office:

“The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office does not comment on matters pending in any court of law.”

Full statement from the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office:

“I’m sorry, but per advise of our legal counsel, we cannot comment on any pending court litigations.”

North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s statement:

“The Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention takes very seriously the health and well-being of children in its care.

“In general, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety does not comment on pending litigation, and, consistent with that policy, will not comment on claims contained within this lawsuit. Additionally, under state law, information contained within juvenile records is confidential and not considered to be public information.”

(Watch the video below: Inmate held at Mecklenburg County Jail dies, sheriff confirms)