NewsLocal News


No criminal charges to be filed over death of man at Racine Co. Jail

Family says he was suffocated at the hands of the law enforcement officers
Posted at 9:18 AM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 14:17:59-05

RACINE, Wis. — The Racine County District Attorney will not file criminal charges against sheriff's office staff after a man died in the jail last year.

The attorney representing the family of Malcolm James was one of the first to speak during the press conference, held inside a small event space in Racine. Kevin O'Connor said on Wednesday night, for the first time, family members watched video from body-worn cameras. O'Connor said the video shows James gasping for breath for three minutes before he goes limp.

"Following a physical struggle and subdual by multiple officers the deceased became unresponsive while strapped in a restraint chair," said O'Connor while he addressed a small crowd at the press conference, at times, reading from a medical examiner's report.

The Kenosha County Sheriff's Office was appointed as an outside agency to lead an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Malcolm James. Based on that report, video evidence, and expert opinions, the Racine County District Attorney reached the conclusion that "There are no charges that could be filed in the death of Malcolm James that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt."

Ahead of the announcement Thursday morning, the district attorney's office released their review of the incident, dated Jan. 5, 2022. The office said in an accompanying statement that District Attorney Tricia Hanson met with the family and loved ones of James on Wednesday.

View the district attorney's office charging decision below:

And the Racine County Sheriff's Office released this statement:

The family is still pushing for criminal charges and demanding involvement from the Department of Justice, the Wisconsin attorney general, and the governor. In the meantime, they plan to pursue a civil case.

On May 28, the Racine County Sheriff's Office took into custody James on 14 counts of recklessly endangering safety and one count of arson to a building.

The office says because of a recent suicide attempt, James was placed on suicide close watch in a high visibility cell.

While in the cell, the office says James began to hurt himself, including smashing his head against the wall of the cell.

James' self-harming behavior was serious enough the office says he was brought to the hospital, where he was medically treated. Medical staff at the hospital then cleared him to return to the jail, the office says.

Three days later, the office says James again smashed his head into a concrete wall. When jail staff tried to evaluate James and prevent him from harming himself, the office says he experienced a medical event, which led to him becoming unresponsive.

Medical staff tried to provide care but James did not regain consciousness, and he was pronounced dead, the office says.

Short video of the incident

In late June of 2021 Racine County Sheriff's Office decided to release to the public a short video of James while in custody.

The office posted a 7-and-a-half minute long video to YouTube. In it, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling addressed what he called misinformation regarding the deaths of James and Ronquale Ditello-Scott Jr., another inmate who died in the same jail during the same week in late May.

Viewer caution advised. The video may be hard to watch.Click here to watch the video released by the office onto YouTube.

The roughly 4-minute clip is recorded from what appears to be body cameras of employees of the jail. The video first shows James with a blanket over his head, standing in his cell. At points he then hits his head against the wall of the cell. The guard meanwhile calls to James, and taps her fingers against the jail cell window in an effort to stop him. She did not enter the cell during the video. She also called for another jail employee to assist.

Body camera video of James in his jail cell.

Later in the video, James walks to the window and puts his hands against it, and then walks around the cell, clearly agitated.

Body camera video of James in his jail cell.

The sheriff said James was seen by mental health professionals and had also visited the hospital twice. The sheriff said his staff "took numerous steps to stop Mr. James from continuing to harm himself."

Schmaling said that when staff entered the jail cell, James "violently fought with jail staff and they had to use physical force to secure him for medical treatment." Wednesday's clip did not show that portion of the incident.

Speaking during Thursday morning's press conference, Malcom James' mother, Sherry James, said "How was he (Sheriff Schmaling) able to put out a video like that portraying my son as a monster. And if he was going to show a snippet of the video he should have shown the final 15 minutes of the video. It is compelling."

The sheriff also said he supports mental health training, education and public awareness for people being held in custody.

Death of Ronquale Ditello-Scott Jr.

Another man died in the same jailhouse during the same week as James.

The Racine County Sheriff's Office said around 2:30 a.m. on May 29, deputies pulled over a man for swerving in and out of lanes. The man, Ditello-Scott Jr., told deputies he was swerving because of car troubles. The office says he then admitted to smoking marijuana two hours before.

In his vehicle, deputies say they found marijuana, drug paraphernalia and "open intoxicants." The office says he failed a field sobriety test and then took him into custody for a variety of charges, including operating a vehicle while impaired.

Ditello-Scott Jr. was brought to the hospital where he consented to a blood draw. He was then brought to the jail.

The office says Ditello-Scott Jr. was given basic necessities there and was allowed to go to sleep in a holding cell. Jail nursing staff checked on him around 7:00 a.m., reporting that he "was snoring and appeared to have a normal flesh tone."

Within one hour, the office says nursing staff checked on Ditello-Scott Jr. a second time, who was then in office's words “yellow in color and not breathing.” Medical staff provided emergency care, but he could not be revived. He was pronounced dead at the jail.

In December of 2021, the office concluded Ditello-Scott Jr. had died from an accidental drug overdose.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip