After his son-in-law died, leaving bloody footprints in a Sedgwick County Jail cell, John Dischert says he wonders whether a deputy followed the policy for checking on inmates.
New information that Dischert got from a sheriff’s official on Friday didn’t erase his concerns.
It appears that 55-year-old Pradith Phousomthee left bloody footprints on a metal desk in his single-man cell before he fell or jumped to the floor. He broke the spinal bone at the base of his skull. The injury eventually caused him to die, Sedgwick County sheriff’s Capt. Greg Pollock can be heard telling Dischert in a recorded phone call Friday.
The recording, made by Dischert, provides the first description of how Phousomthee died while in custody.
Based on that recorded conversation, it appears to Dischert that it had been about four hours, possibly longer, since anyone in the jail had contact with Phousomthee before he was found unresponsive on the floor of his cell around 11 p.m. Oct 4.
That span would have been about twice as long as the policy dictates – “physical rounds reasonably spaced throughout the shift not more than two (2) hours apart.”
Pollock said in the recording that the broken bone in his spine “eventually led to his death.” But Sheriff Jeff Easter said Monday that the important point is that Phousomthee died almost instantly, either from suicide or an accident and that it was definitely not a murder.
“Rounds are important, there’s no doubt about it,” Easter said. “But in this particular incident here, it would not have mattered if we watched him do it because of the extent of his injuries.”
Easter wouldn’t say when the deputy checked on Phousomthee because it is part of the pending internal investigation. In an earlier interview, 10 days after the death, Easter said that there didn’t appear, “on the face of it,” to be any policy violations by the deputy overseeing the section where Phousomthee was, but that the final determination wouldn’t be made until after the investigation is completed.
In Dischert’s 15-minute phone conversation with Pollock, the sheriff’s captain states that the last time anyone had contact with Phousomthee was when someone delivered food to him. Assuming he got dinner as late as 7 p.m, that would have been at least four hours before he was found, Dischert said Monday.
“It sounds like they didn’t do a round,” said Dischert, 67, who lives in Ohio.
Dischert’s stepdaughter is Phousomthee’s wife. The couple operated an Asian restaurant, and Phousomthee was well-known in Wichita’s Laotian-Thai community, his family has said. Phousomthee had been arrested on Sept. 29 and booked into jail on Sept. 30 on a probation-violation warrant related to a stolen-property case, court records show. He had been in jail for five days when he died, in a maximum-security pod with 40-some other inmates.
Dischert provided to The Eagle a copy of the recording, in which Pollock noted that Dischert has power-of-attorney status. During the conversation, Pollock told Dischert he would try to answer questions for the family.
Dischert said the family has a number of remaining questions, including whether the death could have been prevented, no matter how it occurred. The family still suspects that someone could have killed him. They also wonder whether he was being treated for his liver disease while in jail.
Dischert said he and the rest of the family don’t believe that Phousomthee committed suicide.
“I know him,” Dischert said.
Although Phousomthee could speak English fairly well, he still had trouble communicating and understanding and suffered from mental health issues, Dischert said.
Easter said that Phousomthee was able to come and go from his cell, but that at some point the night he died, all the inmates in his pod were locked into their cells.
Dischert said he wonders what would have happened if a deputy had responded to noises heard coming from Phousomthee’s cell and had seen all the blood.
Findings so far
In the recording, Pollock gave this account of what the investigation has found so far:
▪ An autopsy found that Phousomthee’s “C1 spine” bone was broken as a result of a fall.
▪ Phousomthee was “alive, having no problems” when he was placed in the cell based on videotape. When staff found him on his cell floor, he received first aid, but it failed to revive him.
▪ Sheriff’s officials had initially told the family that his death could have been a suicide, and that was based on the fact that a bed sheet was tied to a desk in his cell and covered in blood. That was the only indicator of a possible suicide, Pollock told Dischert during the call.
Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Lin Dehning on Monday said that he couldn’t comment on the recording but gave these statistics: In 2014, there were 40 suicide attempts in the jail and 22 so far this year.
“You could say that we prevented them or stopped them,” Dehning said. “We’ve had detention deputies that have literally saved lives in that jail.”
▪ In the recorded conversation, Pollock said that investigators also talked to two inmates whose cells were close to Phousomthee’s, and they heard him banging on his door, “which is also what the guard who was working in the area reported.”
▪ The inmates also said they heard what sounded like a “boing.” Investigators determined that if someone stood on the metal desk or the stool connected to the desk and jumped off, it makes a similar sound.
▪ For now, investigators have concluded that for some unknown reason, Phousomthee climbed onto the desk – which bore bloody foot prints – and fell from the desk or the stool, causing the bone in his spine to break, “which eventually led to his death, which is what I think we’re going to see from the coroner’s office, but they have not ruled on anything,” Pollock said.
▪ It appears that Phousomthee struck his head one or two times, on the corner of the metal bed, and that he might have walked to the cell door “in an attempt to alert somebody and then fell to ground,” Pollock said. “That’s a possibility; we don’t know.” Pollock called it one of the theories.
Head wounds bleed a lot, “so there was quite a bit of blood in the cell, but it was confined to, like, two big areas, one in the area where we think he struck his head and the other somewhere near the door.”
▪ The only other notable injury was a 2- to 3-inch cut on his forehead with a “flat edge,” a superficial wound consistent with hitting the metal edge of the bed, Pollock said.
In the conversation with Pollock, Dischert questioned how the bloody footprints got onto the desk, “if that’s how he fell. Why would he get up there after his shoes had blood on them?”
Pollock said it wasn’t clear when he struck his head, whether he jumped once or twice – “all we know is there are bloody footprints on the desk.”
The blood came from the cut on the head, Pollock said. The skull sustained no damage.
Although the autopsy has been completed, and autopsy reports are public records, it could take three to four months to finish the toxicology report on whether Phousomthee had any substances in his system. So it could be six months before the family sees a final report, Pollock said.
Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.