TRAVERSE CITY — A special prosecutor may soon be assigned to further investigate the circumstances that led to an inmate's suicide inside Grand Traverse County's jail.
Prosecutor Bob Cooney on Thursday asked Attorney General Bill Schutte's office to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the investigation into Alan Bradley Halloway’s death. Cooney said the decision was delayed for months because it’s not one he took lightly.
“There were facts that developed as time went on that made it more and more clear to me that I should be requesting a special prosecutor,” Cooney said. “I try to handle cases in this office as much as possible. … I take it very seriously when I do decide to refer one to the attorney general’s office.”
A Michigan Sheriff’s Association investigation indicated unchecked cells, mishandled paperwork and other inadequacies at the jail preceded Halloway’s death. He was found in July hanging from a pair of jail-issued socks he had fashioned into a noose inside his cell, according to the report.
Two corrections officers – deputies Rachel Gillis and Ryan Kigar – left their jobs two months later. Gillis, who was assigned to monitor cameras at the time of Halloway’s death, resigned shortly after the MSA probe began. Kigar was fired after the reports indicated he left Halloway alone for nearly three hours.
Both Gillis and Kigar are named in Cooney’s request but, like the MSA report, it stops short of requesting charges. Those decisions will be left up to a special prosecutor should Schutte’s office accept Cooney’s request. The answer could come as soon as next week, Cooney said.
“I did note they were specifically named and there seemed to be some investigation around that to give (Schuette) an idea of the focus of the earlier investigation,” Cooney said. “We’re asking they review the situation and determine whether or not to appoint special counsel.”
Halloway was awaiting a court hearing on a $1 million bond before his death. Deputies arrested him the week prior after a brief standoff outside his home. Authorities suspected he shot a man at Bay Hill Apartments and he was later charged with multiple felonies, including attempted murder.
Cooney said his involvement in the case could raise questions of impropriety since he was the one who charged Halloway with attempted murder. He also provided advice to sheriff’s officials after they anticipated a lawsuit could arise from the situation, Cooney said.
“I do feel, based on the circumstances, that it’s the right thing to do,” Cooney said.
Authorities previously said Halloway was placed on suicide watch after he told deputies he took 20 Valium before his arrest. Grand Traverse corrections officers released Halloway from suicide watch following a recommendation from Community Mental Health.
An investigative summary of an interview with CMH's Dr. Joseph Barkman showed the recommendation made after Halloway denied any suicidal tendencies and requested to be released from the heightened security of the watch. Barkman obliged "based on" that information, according to the report.
Jail logs showed Kigar among other officers also neglected Halloway’s cell. Department policies require inmates be observed every 59 minutes; The MSA report showed Halloway’s hourly checks were missed more than 25 times during his four-day stay.
It’s not clear what corrections officers were doing the night Halloway died. A termination letter Kigar received from Sheriff Tom Bensley contended he lied to investigators during the probe and repeatedly charted “unsatisfactory performance."
Gillis received a reprimand letter that questioned “why you were not able to determine that Halloway was in peril.” She resigned about two weeks later and directed any further county communications to her attorney.
Halloway’s parents, Teresa and Alan C. Halloway, aim to hold the county and the sheriff’s department responsible for the “negligence” that led to their son’s death, according to a notice sent to county officials last month by their attorney Jesse Williams.
Williams contended county commissioners, Bensley and dozens more were made aware of the safety issues at the jail but allowed the facility to continue operating in its “dangerous” condition regardless. The jail for years has posed a needless suicide risk for every inmate, according to the complaint.
Cooney outlined how ongoing pressure from Williams’ office ultimately triggered his request.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction but what I really think is the (Michigan State Police) did absolutely nothing in their investigation,” Williams said. “I think any prosecutor who takes their job seriously will order that a real investigation occurs.”
Cooney’s office coordinates state Freedom of Information requests, largely acting as the gatekeeper to Williams’ repeated requests for additional details. Those requests are the subject of a recently filed lawsuit against the county – and Cooney is the county’s attorney in the matter.
“The above facts create an appearance of impropriety such that under law this office is prevented from handling any review of prosecution in this matter,” Cooney noted in his request. “Specifically, there may be at least an appearance that petitioner is biased against Mr. Halloway.”
Williams said a more thorough investigation could’ve shed more light on the situation and led to potential criminal charges against corrections staff. Instead, key questions weren’t asked and authorities tailored their probe to reach a foregone conclusion, Williams added.
“This is a situation where there are more potential witnesses to this alleged crime than any other the state police has investigated this year," Williams said.
Theresa Halloway previously said her family isn’t getting “the full story” behind her son’s death. She questioned why corrections officers aren’t being prosecuted for disregarding their duties. A special prosecutor – if assigned to the case – could soon provide an answer to her question.
Editor's note: This story has been updated for clarification. Grand Traverse County corrections officers released Alan Bradley Halloway from suicide watch following a recommendation from Community Mental Health. — Dec. 18, 2017