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Woman dies at the Mecklenburg County jail

Mecklenburg County Jail
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The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office is investigating after a woman died in custody at the county jail on Wednesday.

The woman, identified by the sheriff's office as Francine Laney, was 31 years old and had been at the jail since Jan. 30.

According to the sheriff's office, staff found Laney unconscious in her cell in the jail's infirmary at 6:20 p.m. on Wednesday. Staff performed CPR and a nurse called 911.

Charlotte firefighters and medics arrived, connected an IV and administered an automatic external defibrillator while continuing to administer CPR, but were unable to revive her.

Sheriff Garry McFadden shared condolences in a statement, saying "words cannot express the devastation of losing a resident so soon after the shooting involving one of our deputies and now the emotional trauma on staff. We are deeply saddened to report this death."

Arrest records show Laney was being held at the jail on a range of charges including felony breaking and entering, assault on a government official, resisting an officer and assault with a deadly weapon.

The death is the first to be reported at the Mecklenburg County jail this year. At least three inmates died at the jail in 2021, including two who died within days of each other in May 2021.

It comes as the sheriff's office has been struggling with staff vacancies and violence at the county jail. A state inspector's report from December 2021 found the jail had "significant safety concerns around staffing shortages."

The inspection found the jail routinely fell short of the 80 officers needed for each shift. Many shifts were often short between 10 and 15 staff members, and some days, the jail was short up to 29 workers.

State inspectors also found 454 incident reports at the jail from Jan. 1, 2021, through Dec. 9, 2021. Many were considered serious, including assaults on staff, inmates caught with weapons and searches that turned up homemade weapons.

The report recommended the sheriff's office "de-populate" the jail to a level that could be managed by the current staff.

In a news conference last month, McFadden said he was trying to reduce the jail's population, and he had contacted every other sheriff's office in the state but found few had room in their own jails to take extra inmates.

McFadden said he was also trying to hire more staff, but had so far found few interested, qualified candidates.

In a letter dated Feb. 9, 2022, state inspectors said they would give McFadden 60 days to develop and enact a plan to address staffing shortages and violence at the jail. McFadden said he planned to meet that deadline.

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal