TRAVERSE CITY — Handwritten notes alerted corrections officers to an inmate’s pleas for help days before her lifeless body was found hanging inside Grand Traverse County’s jail.
“I think I’m having detox symptoms because I have really restless legs and my anxiety is through the roof,” Marilyn Lucille Palmer wrote on a health service request more than a week before her suicide.
Investigators' interviews with cellmates detailed how the 36-year-old Gaylord woman suffered from anxiety in the days leading up to her death, according to a police report compiled following a Traverse City Police Department investigation that was released Thursday. Palmer was distraught because she was going to miss Easter with her family and her son’s 13th birthday, they said.
The “troublemakers” in Cell 207 — as inmates claimed officers described them — also lost their work privileges following a “large argument” earlier that week. Corrections officers only made matters worse and withheld their feminine hygiene products for days, some inmates claimed.
Refills on addictive prescription medication also were delayed, according to the report. Palmer on Feb. 28 requested a refill of a prescription for Trazadone, an antidepressant used primarily for anxiety, sleep and pain. The drug is considered habit-forming and carries the potential to cause withdrawal symptoms.
“Been out several days,” Palmer wrote on another request, sent just hours before she was found hanging dead in a shower area inside her cell.
Panicked screams from Palmer’s cellmates eventually alerted corrections officers of the situation but they were too late. She was pronounced dead after paramedics tried to revive her, according to police reports. A metal partition near the shower entrance also largely blocked the incident from the view of security cameras.
Reports detailed how a nurse delivered medication several hours after Palmer’s final request. She was spotted about three hours later on a motion-activated camera with orange fabric tied over her head.
“I cannot see what she is doing,” noted a detective who viewed surveillance footage following her death. “There is movement of her feet.”
Sheriff Tom Bensley this week urged county commissioners to expand mental health services at the jail and consider building a new facility altogether. He said he hadn’t yet reviewed police reports that detailed the recent suicide and declined to comment on accusations posed by inmates.
Jail Administrator and sheriff’s Capt. Todd Ritter didn’t return a call for clarification Thursday.
“I wouldn’t have any comment to make,” Bensley said. “I don’t know if there’s any mental health history at this point because I haven’t looked at the report. … What occurred is still on our plate.”
Palmer’s cellmates said she was having trouble adjusting to her new cell assignment — a space some considered inferior to her former bed in cell No. 101. Palmer’s old cell had a privacy divider and a window to the outside world; Inmates are just “stuck behind bars” in No. 207, her cellmates said.
Court records state Palmer was recently convicted of identity theft and was set to be released in May. A note from Community Corrections manager Sherise Shively arrived the day before Palmer’s suicide and dismissed a recent request for an early release. Three-month sentences need to be served in full.
“You know when you get bad news, you get sad,” according to a statement one cellmate made to police. “Hers kind of hit one right after the other. … She was just sad because you realize what you’re going to miss. You get sad. After that, (sic) just trying to keep spirits up, trying to help each other.”
Attorney Jesse Williams represents the family of another inmate — Allan Bradley Halloway — who hanged himself inside the jail last year. He said he’ll also represent the Palmer family in any future legal proceedings that may stem from what he called “gross incompetence” within the walls of the county’s jail.
“Everybody wants to know what led up to this and how this was possible again,” Williams said, noting family members declined to comment. “The whole place is dysfunctional from the top down. … We’ve been dealing with these problems for years and this all just needs to come to an end.
“How many more mentally ill people are going to kill themselves in that jail?”
Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to correctly identify the object that obscured Palmer's suicide from view of security footage inside the county's jail. — April 5, 2018