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Criminal investigation reveals new details in inmate's death

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk

Janika Edmond was found lying in the prison shower with her bra wrapped around her neck.  

On November 2, 2015, the 25-year-old inmate at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility apparently tried to hang herself by attaching her bra to the shower head, but the bra broke and Edmond fell to the floor, landing on the back of her head.

She was rushed to the hospital, where she was eventually pronounced brain dead and, days later, taken off life support.

But just 20 minutes before she was found on the shower floor, Edmond told prison staff she “should kill herself” and asked for a “Bam-Bam” (that’s a type of suicide prevention vest, according to Edmond’s family’s attorney.)

Yet instead of getting Edmond help, corrections officer Dianna Callahan can be heard shouting “Somebody owes me lunch” on the prison video feed – an apparent reference to a bet between Callahan and another guard that Edmond would threaten suicide.

Security video then shows Officer Callahan leaving the area, and “appearing to wave and pump her first 3 three times, with her thumb up while nodding her head and looking in the direction of the control area,” according to an investigation by Michigan State Police.

She then chats with corrections officer Kory Moore “about the Subway sandwich” promised in their bet, according to a review of the prison’s video and audio recordings by the Michigan State Police.

Four minutes later, the prison video feed picks up sounds of choking.

Inmates can be heard yelling, one of them calling “Sarge, Sarge.”

More choking sounds are audible off and on over the next several minutes, according to the state police report, until eventually a call goes out on the prison radio for all “health care and yard staff” to report to the segregation unit. Staff performed CPR on Edmond for several minutes while waiting for an ambulance.

Staff fired, criminal investigation presented to prosecutor’s office

The two corrections officers, Dianna Callahan and Kory Moore, were fired earlier this year after an investigation into Edmond’s death by the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Since then, the Michigan State Police have also been conducting a criminal investigation into the incident. State police delivered in a warrant request last week to the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s office.

State police investigators want Callahan charged with manslaughter, according to David Steingold, a lawyer representing Edmond’s family. The prosecutor’s office says it’s reviewing the criminal investigation and won't comment further.

An attorney for Callahan did not respond to a request for comment.

What’s more, MDOC apparently violated its own polices by not telling the State Police about their investigation into Edmond’s death.

“Referral to the Michigan State Police will be made whenever investigation reveals possible criminal behavior,” MDOC’s policy directive states.

But Detective Sgt. Jim Bundshuh had to find out about Edmond’s death and the resulting internal investigation from an MLive article, he says in his report.

Chris Gautz, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections, admits the prison should have alerted the state police.

“In this case, the call should have been made to MSP,” he says in an email Friday. “This was an unusual case because the individual did not die at the facility and then did not pass away until more than a week after at the hospital. But still, MSP should have been called. That issue has been addressed with the facility, and going forward, it is clear that the referral to MSP is to be made.”

Still, Gautz says it’s less clear whether MDOC’s internal investigation into Edmond’s death should have also been flagged to the state police.

“Whether someone at the facility was planning to contact MSP once that [internal investigation] was done, I do not know, but the [MLive] article came out before we took the final action.

“Policy does state that we are to make a referral to MSP if our investigation reveals criminal behavior, but this was not a clear cut case…Deciding whether staffs action in that case rose to criminal behavior is much different. Our threshold for suspending or ultimately firing an employee as a department is quite different from what the police would need to make a criminal case. And ultimately, this is a decision for the prosecutor to decide and the prosecutor is now reviewing the information to make a decision as to whether there was criminal behavior.”

Prison didn’t alert family to Edmond’s suicide attempt, hospitalization  

Janika Edmond did not have an easy life, from all accounts.

Her inmate file details a “troubled childhood, troubled parents, that she adopted out her child” according to the Michigan State Police investigation.

Edmond also had a long history of misconduct in prison, including at least one assault on staff and fighting with other inmates.

She’d tried to commit suicide at least once before in 2014, where she “utilized a towel that was in her cell to make a rope,” and tried to strangle herself, according to prison records.  

She’d also made suicide threats and attempted suicide while at Lenawee County Jail, records show.

But when she finally hung herself from a shower head in November 2015, she’d been trying to rebuild a relationship with her biological family members. That’s according to attorney David Steingold, who’s representing Edmond’s family.

Her mother, father and aunt all visited Edmond in the months leading up to her death, according to visitor application records.

But when Edmond was rushed to the hospital in November, the only emergency contact she’d listed was a friend – and apparently, no one from Huron Valley Correctional Facility reached out to her family, even as the hospital told the prison Edmond was brain dead, unlikely to survive, and asked whether she was “suitable for organ donation.”

Instead, the prison told the hospital Edmond “had no next of kin, only a friend listed for a contact, and that it will be up to the attorney general to make the decision to terminate care,” according to the State Police investigation.

Edmond’s mother had to find out about Edmond’s hospitalization from the friend who was listed as Edmond’s emergency contact.

Three days after Edmond was found in the prison shower, Edmond’s mother was at the hospital, “crying excessively and in pain out of not knowing where Janicka [sic] was or the status of Janicka [sic]” according to medical records. The hospital clergy noted that “family is in despair [and] experiencing loss of control and hopelessness…”

And Edmond’s father told state police investigators that he didn’t know of Edmond’s suicide attempt and hospitalization until he showed up at the prison several days later, trying to visit her. The warden broke the news in the lobby.

The hospital declared Janika Edmond brain dead on November 6, 2015, and discontinued life monitoring devices on November 11, 2015, at which point she was declared dead. 

Chris Gautz, a spokesperson for MDOC, says the prison was respecting Janika Edmond’s wishes.

“The prisoner chose to not list her biological family members on her emergency contact list, and so we contacted the person she did place on that list,” he says in an email Friday. “This prisoner was an adult and made the decision that she did not want her biological family notified if there was an emergency, and we respected her wish.

“People often come to prison with quite complicated family issues, and those the prisoner places on the emergency list are the only people they want contacted. It can often be the case that family members were abusive, or a victim in relation to the prisoner, so we have to be careful and respect the wishes of contacting only those they put on the list.”

The family’s attorney, David Steingold, says they are preparing to file a lawsuit in Edmond’s death.

This story was updated on Friday, July 22nd to include statements received from the Michigan Department of Corrections. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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