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Racine Co. Sheriff releases clip of Malcolm James, who died in custody at jail

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Posted at 7:34 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 23:21:34-04

RACINE — The Racine County Sheriff's Office has decided to release to the public a short video of Malcolm I. James while in custody earlier this month. It was in that jail cell where authorities say he had a mental health crisis and died.

The office posted a 7-and-a-half minute long video to YouTube on Wednesday. In it, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling addressed what he called misinformation regarding the deaths of James and Ronquale Ditello-Scott Jr., who died in the same jail during the same week in late May. Officials say James died after he hit his head against the cell wall, experienced a "medical event" and then became unresponsive.

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

Sheriff Schmaling and his office initially announced earlier this month the office would not release any information as the Kenosha County Sheriff's Office investigates the deaths. But Schmaling said in Wednesday's video that he hopes the partial release of video will help stop misinformation surrounding the controversial deaths.

"Given the advancement of serious misinformation, and completely inaccurate statements, I must now balance the interest to protecting the integrity of the investigation against releasing limited information so the public has the facts," said Schmaling.

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.

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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.

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Body camera video of James in his jail cell.

Sheriff Schmaling said that the clip of James "clearly shows Mr. James did in fact intentionally harm himself while in the Racine County Jail."

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.

"While it is true a Taser was used, the statements made about Tasers causing death are completely false. Medical experts have consistently supported this fact," said Schmaling.

Sheriff Schmaling finished the video by saying that at the conclusion of the outside investigation by the Kenosha County Sheriff's Office, he will announce what happened and answer questions.

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

The original announcement of the jail deaths

The sheriff's office's initial announcement on the deaths was released on June 4.

Death of Malcolm I. James

On the morning of the same day, around 3 a.m. on May 29, the Racine County Sheriff's Office said it took into custody Malcolm I. 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 "engaged in multiple acts of self-harm where he would, amongst other acts, violently smash his head into a concrete wall."

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, on June 1, the office says James again smashed his head into a concrete wall "so violently that it was audible to jail staff." 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.

Death of Ronquale Ditello-Scott Jr.

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.

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