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Mecklenburg jail missed safety checks leading up to deaths of 4 inmates, state reviews say

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Seven inmates at the Mecklenburg County jail uptown have died over the past 13 months. A state inspector has found officers missed many safety checks in the hours leading up to most of those deaths.

The state requires jail staff to check on inmates twice an hour to make sure they’re safe and everything is in order. In at least four of the seven deaths, that appears not to have happened. A jail inspector found no documentation for at least a quarter of these mandated rounds in the more than 24 hours leading up to the deaths.

According to a review the state released this week, that was the case in the death of William Rhinesmith, a 47-year-old who the sheriff’s office says died from an apparent suicide in April after entering the jail four days earlier. He was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle. The sheriff’s office did tell the state an officer checked on Rhinesmith 15 minutes before finding him hanging in his cell.

The state hasn’t released records on the latest two deaths, including one last week.

These missed checks were one of the big problems cited by the state inspector in December when he said inadequate staffing posed “an imminent threat” to the safety of inmates and staff. The sheriff’s office told the state it would randomly review video footage, log entries, and its electronic monitoring system to make sure officers did not miss checks.

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Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.