Deschutes County Jail knew of reported suicide attempt

'We did keep a close eye on him,' captain says

Deschutes Co jail captain speaks after inmate death

BEND, Ore. - An active investigation is underway after Bryan Michael Penner, 31, of Bend, took his own life at the Deschutes County Jail Sunday night. 

Correctional Capt. Michael Schults of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office told NewsChannel 21 on Tuesday, that Penner was in a dorm setting with other inmates and was not on a suicide watch or secluded from the general population. 

Shults said his agency was aware of Penner's criminal record and a restraining order that stated he had attempted suicide in the past, but no red flags showed up to indicate Penner needed to be on suicide watch. 

"I'll say we did keep a close eye on him," Shults said. "If somebody is in our custody that truly wants to self-harm, there's a whole bunch of different ways to do it.

"Jails are adherently dangerous but, at the same time, we have to be able to house them in certain areas in our population," he added. "The biggest thing you can do for individuals is not keep them isolated in cells but to get them out in a group living, and that's where this individual was, with the other people, and we didn't see signs (of a suicidal nature), nor did he report anything to us."

Penner was being held on contempt of court charges, accused of violating a restraining order forbidding contact with ex-girlfriend Sara Gomez, 24, who was last seen leaving her workplace, the Albertsons in north Bend, late on the night of Monday, Feb. 19.

Around 8:40 p.m. Sunday, Penner was found by another inmate after an apparent suicide in a jail housing unit, Sgt. William Bailey said early Monday.

District Attorney John Hummel said Penner hanged himself in a jail shower. Another inmate found him and pushed a button to alert staff. There is no indication of anyone else's involvement or of foul play, he said. 

Corrections deputies and a jail nurse responded to immediately begin lifesaving efforts, officials said. They continued until Bend Fire Department medics arrived and rushed Penner to St. Charles Bend, where he died Monday at 8:11 a.m., according to Hummel.

The cause of death was determined to be suicide by asphyxiation, although a multi-agency incident team, led by Oregon State Police, will continue its investigation and forward its findings to Hummel, who said he will review the facts and the law and announce his conclusions.

A restraining order filed last year by Gomez stated Penner had attempted suicide before. 

According to the sheriff's office policies on suicide prevention and reporting, while an inmate is being booked into the jail, staff will perform a medical interview and look at risk factors. 

Some behavioral risk factors include the inmate having a known history of suicide attempts, with or without current suicidal ideation; recent significant losses, such as loss of a spouse or loved one, job, health, inmate is a high-profile person in the community, or status and crime that produce guilt or shame. 

The policy also states each inmate placed on safety precautions will be offered the option to wear the RiskWatch monitoring system. 

Jail staff will conduct 15-minute checks on inmates who are under suicide watch. 

"If somebody has come in the past and they're not acting the same way, we want to have trained professional medical staff, mental health folks that can come in and identify that, to get them to the proper area but, literally, not to lock them down their whole incarceration, but to identify those things, to get them into housing," Shults said. 

Shults said Penner has been in the jail on 10 occasions since 2007, most recently from Dec. 11, 2017 through Jan. 6, 2018, and had never shown any signs or indications of being a suicide risk.

The Tri-County Major Incident Team is handling Penner's death investigation and will send the findings to the Deschutes County District Attorney's Office. 

NewsChannel 21 tried to speak with Penner's mother on Tuesday, but was told she would not speak to us about her son or the incident. 

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