The following letter was sent to The Dagger by Teresa Haladej, the mother of Norman Miller; Miller died following an apparent suicide attempt at the Harford County Detention Center in January 2013. It is published here in its unaltered form; for The Dagger‘s independently reported feature story on the incident, or to comment on this letter, click here.
In December 2012, my son Norman Miller was sentenced to 30 days at HCDC for a traffic violation. Two days were deducted from that sentence with anticipation of a further five-day reduction for good behavior; giving him an expected 23-day incarceration with a release on or about February 10th, 2013 for the traffic charge.
Prior to entering HCDC on Friday, Jan 18th, 2013, Norm did a stupid thing. With his awareness of gang activity and prior deaths at HCDC, he made the choice to body pack two balloons. He filled two fingers of a plastic glove; one with cigarette tobacco, the other with matches and a match striker—and he swallowed them. That surprised us because Norm didn’t smoke cigarettes. His rationale for packing the two glove fingers was: in the event he needed someone to watch his back and physically help him—he would have a method of payment to give them—bartering their help for tobacco and matches. It was his way of protecting himself against any evil that came against him in the jail. He went in with money for his account, so money was not the issue—the balloons were a method of paying for protection if needed. It was determined later that he was approached and threatened by several inmates, “young bucks or little banshees” as he called them. The episode led him to being placed in a segregation cell at his request for his own protection. Within a short time, one of the inmates that threatened him was also moved to the segregation unit two cells from Norm. That inmate spent the next day and a half verbally tormenting and threatening Norm.
Wednesday [Jan. 23] was his 5th day and he had not passed the balloons. Research tells us that if the balloons have not passed by the 5th day and your pain factor is high—you need the opinion of a surgeon.
The bag were too large to pass and they were caught in the lumens of his stomach. The bags were trapped in Norman’s stomach for six days, and he was experiencing excruciating pain. They were found by the medical examiner during the autopsy. It was explained to us that only a surgeon could have removed the bags from Norm’s stomach; only a qualified surgeon could have made the diagnosis and provided the emergency treatment that was needed.
While waiting to speak to a captain on Thursday [Jan. 24], he snuck a phone call to his attorney who contacted the institution and his family. The family spoke to a lieutenant and a sergeant and were assured that he was safe in a segregation cell, on camera and watched 24/7; there was no mention of a medical need, only that he was safe. The family was also told that he could not return a call to them on Thursday, and they could not visit until Sunday; his attorney made arrangements to see him Saturday morning.
On Thursday, a guard found him on the floor under his bed and described him as “hallucinating, in pain and talking out of his head.” The guard took him to the Con Med staff accompanied by a lieutenant. While in the examination room, the nurse described Norm “on the floor in a fetal position in extreme pain, hallucinating and not making any sense.” The LPN when diagnosed Norm with abdominal pain and prescribed two powerful laxatives. Within a short period of time, those two pills would thrust Norm into more excruciating abdominal pain coupled with his already existing pain from the impacted balloons.
He was then escorted back to a constant watch cell. Before the guard left, Norm pleaded with him, begging for help. The guard decided to get the lieutenant again, who was followed by a second lieutenant to Norm’s cell. This time Norm had his shirt off; a red flag went up for me when I heard that because, in knowing Norm, even while doing yard work on the hottest day, he would not take his shirt off and go “bare chest-ed” in front of anyone; he did not feel that was gentlemanly.
Again, with the palms of his hands up toward the ceiling, Norm begins to plead—begging the lieutenants for help. The first lieutenant later that night admits to the sheriff’s department investigator, that “something just did not seem right, something just was not right about the whole thing.” Was it that this lieutenant could see that this man was in a lot of pain and that something was seriously wrong?
Nevertheless, the lieutenant did not listen to his own voice of reason; and judgment; he left Norm there alone in that cold cell to deal with his pain. The guard then brings him a dinner plate. Norm never looks at the food.
Norm then sits on the cot for nearly five minutes with his hands cupped around his face. Those were the defining moments for Norman. His severe pain far outweighed his coping mechanisms. Since he had such deep convictions about God, His Holy Word, and the life eternal, I feel that he was praying–for help.
He could not continue to cope with the relentless pain that he had been in for days. He realized he was impacted and that the laxatives were not going to help; the laxative was only “compounding” the pain. I feel that the additional pain from the laxative given to him by the LPN sent him over the edge to “I can not take anymore of this pain.”
He spends time ripping and tieing his t-shirt; he stands on the cot and ties one end to the upper bars and then ties it around his neck. He knows he’s being monitored and watched by the camera, he hears the guard delivering the last of three dinner plates and now he’s walking toward his cell; someone will come to his aid quickly. He allows his feet to “gently” slip off the cot.
Norman was wrong! No one was watching; no one came. He hung for an unacceptable amount of time. I ask you: where was the man watching him on the camera?
It took time for Norm to pray, to rip, and tie the segments of the shirt together, to tie the shirt to the bars, to tie the shirt around his neck—why wasn’t anyone watching?
If you add up those minutes prior to the hanging, it goes far beyond a 15-minute watch—much less a constant watch? Add that to the time he hung, again, it goes FAR beyond a 15-minute watch.
He could not continue to cope with the relentless pain that he had been in for days. He realizes he is impacted and the laxatives are not going to help. They are only compounding the pain. I feel that the additional pain from the laxatives sent him over the edge to “I can’t take anymore pain.” I ask: where was the employee that was supposed to be watching him on the camera? It took time for Norm to tie the segments of his shirt together, to tie the shirt to the bars, to tie it to his neck—why wasn’t anyone watching?
The lieutenant who showed such limited compassion and left him alone to suffer, was also the one who found him. That speaks volumes to me. Unfortunately, the lieutenant had no keys to enter the cell. He called for help while attempting to hold Norm’s weight up through the bars of the cell. Once the keys were made available, they entered to assist Norm—but they had no cut down tool? A guard had to run to another area for a pair of scissors. The scissors were not readily doing the job and took even more time to cut the shirt from his neck. Why was there no cut down tool available to the staff in the area where the majority of these deaths occur?
It took even more time to use the cut down tool to release the pressure from his neck. You would think that after so many deaths at HCDC, that your team would have perfected its training on “how to save a life in an attempted hanging”? The team should have proficiency by now!
Then only 50 percent of CPR was administered to Norm; he received chest compulsions with no oxygen. Minutes later, Con Med’s team arrived to the cell with an AED and oxygen machines. They state that their AED instructed them not to shock—but—directly afterward, when the Bel Air paramedics arrived on the scene, their AED machine gave clear instruction to shock the patient and the Bel Air paramedics attained an active heartbeat?
Twenty-four [HCDC] staff members gathered to Norm’s cell and in the hallway during the CPR stage. Interest and compassionate concern from just one of them prior to the hanging, could have saved this man’s life.
Where was the employee posted to watch him? Why was there no adequate cut down tool available? Why didn’t the lieutenant have keys to open the cell? He claimed to have been on a “Cell Watch/Check”—with NO keys? Why was there no emergency kit with an AED and oxygen machine not available in close proximity to the segregation cells where most of these correctional suicide attempts occur? Staff witnessed the severe pain he was in; they listened to him plead and beg for help—why was my son left so alone to suffer and die?
We all make mistakes—we’re all human and if this were the first such incident at HCDC, perhaps it would not be so heavily questioned. But, after so many deaths, one would think that it was most imperative to get it right. At HCDC, apparently “NOT SO”! We can only conclude that the “Sanctity of Human Life” has not taken a priority at the Harford County Detention Center.
Sheriff Bane, my son Norman was not given a safe environment at your Detention Center; and he obviously was not provided with adequate medical services. When Norm made mistakes in his life—he always admitted when he was wrong, he faced the consequences, and repaid his debt to society. Who pays the consequences for the mistakes made regarding his death?
The buck has to stop somewhere—who stands up and takes the responsibility for the mistakes that were made that day? Is that you?
Norm’s family requested nothing from HCDC except the truth, and you did not become transparent until you were legally forced to do so. The HCDC was found to have many problematic areas. There is such a profound need for the leadership of a warden there. No one is going to look out for the staff and inmates like a full-time warden.
Even though the 2013 Harford County Budget reflects an allocation of $113,027 for a warden’s salary—no warden was hired? The allocation of funds for a warden’s salary in 2014 is $117,541; he/she was given a $4,514 raise and he does not even exist?
[NOTE: Haladej’s letter preceded the hiring of Charles Moore as the detention center’s warden in June 2014.]
There is just too much “slipping through the cracks” of this Harford County institution for too long a period of time. The poor decision making has left Harford County vulnerable for liability and perhaps a full time warden would be more on top of that.
If it were not for the call that Norm made to his attorney, the eight page letter he wrote to his fiancée while there, and the diligent efforts of our attorneys—we would not have the truthful answers that we have. There was no attempt on the part of the HCDC to share, clarify, or answer any questions regarding Norm’s death. In all fairness, there was one employee who shared compassionate concern and consolation for what happened to Norm—to that individual I am sincerely grateful.
Years ago, Norman accepted the responsibility and privilege to be an organ donor. He made arrangements, knowing that his organs were so valuable due to his rare blood type, and opted to donate life to others if the opportunity arose. To me, that speaks directly to Norman’s character of compassion towards his fellow man. Through his organ donations, his four organs were able to save and extend the lives of three human beings; a grandfather and two fathers. They look at Norman as their hero.
To those of us who knew and loved Norm, he was a hero long before that—and he did NOT deserve to suffer and die in that way.
In conclusion Sheriff Bane, I hold no discontentment toward you personally–but–the “buck” that I mentioned earlier does stop with you. With every good intention, I ask you to thoroughly review the existing policies and procedures on preparedness for the possibility of death by hanging at your facility. I ask that you personally assess and strengthen the training on detection of those at risk for suicide under your care; that you assure that every preventative measure is being taken; that there is aftermath counseling for all staff and inmates at HCDC when an unnecessary death like this occurs; and ever so importantly—please see that your staff has the proper equipment available to them enabling their efforts in fighting for someone’s life. Thank you for your time and attention in this extremely important matter.
T.E. Haladej, Norman’s Mother