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County inmate dead of apparent suicide

February 28, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY — A Washington County Detention Center inmate was found dead in his cell Sunday morning, having committed suicide by choking himself with a bedsheet, Sheriff Doug Mullendore said.

Mullendore said the death was “definitely a suicide.”

Washington County Sheriff’s Office officials still needed to complete the investigation as standard procedure, he said.

Robert Alan Conner, 23, of 93 Larry Way in Bunker Hill, W.Va., was found dead around 8 a.m. Sunday, according to officials with the sheriff’s department.

Conner was charged Friday after an armed robbery of the Sheetz store at 17550 Virginia Ave., south of Hagerstown, police said.

During the robbery, which was reported at 12:45 a.m. Friday, a man wearing a ski mask walked into the store, displayed a handgun and demanded money, according to a news release about the robbery. The man fled after receiving an undisclosed amount of money.

Conner was being held at the detention center on a $500,000 bond Friday after being charged with armed robbery, robbery, three counts of first-degree assault, three counts of second-degree assault, felony theft and use of a handgun during the commission of a felony or violent crime, according to the news release about the robbery.

Mullendore said Conner did not have a cellmate at the detention center, which is off Western Maryland Parkway in Hagerstown’s West End.

The cells are locked down overnight and opened around 5 a.m. so inmates, who want to, can come out for breakfast, Mullendore said. Then they are locked in around 5:20 to 5:30 a.m.

The inmates were locked in their cells when the daylight shift came on duty and did rounds, Mullendore said.

Deputies conducted rounds and counts on inmates at 6:59 a.m., and Conner was found around 8 a.m., according to a news release from the sheriff’s department.

Mullendore said he did not know yet whether Conner came out of his cell for breakfast Sunday morning. Investigators had not yet spoken to all the officers on the midnight shift, he said.

A bedsheet was hung over a metal piece of the top bunk bed, where there is a slight cutout where the bunk bed attaches to the wall, Mullendore said. The bunk is about 4 feet to 5 feet above the floor, so the inmate choked on the bedsheet as he sat or kneeled down, Mullendore said.

Mullendore said he couldn’t remember when the last suicide occurred at the detention center, saying it had been awhile.

In 1995 and 1996, a series of suicides and suicide attempts at the detention center attracted scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice, according to Herald-Mail archives. Jail personnel altered cells, and increased surveillance and staffing to prevent suicide attempts.

Between Aug. 24 and November 1995, two inmates committed suicide and two others apparently attempted suicide by hanging themselves from sheets tied to air-vent grills, according to Herald-Mail archives. Plates were welded over the grills, making it more difficult to tie sheets to them.

“If someone is intending on committing harm to themselves, they’ll find a way one way or another,” Mullendore said Sunday.

“Unfortunately, this man just had that mentality that he was going to end his life,” Mullendore said.

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