A Santa Rosa woman incarcerated in the Lake County Jail spent the last hour of her life tearing her blanket into strips and fiddling with plumbing fixtures before hanging herself from the sink of a sobering cell, according to a new report released by the Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
The report concluded that Elizabeth Dara Gaunt, 56, died Aug. 2 of self-inflicted injuries, and District Attorney Don Anderson cleared jail staff of any wrongdoing in the death. But the woman’s friends and family said the report raises serious questions about the supervision Gaunt received while in custody.
Sheriff Brian Martin confirmed late Wednesday that one member of the jail staff involved in Gaunt’s care no longer works for the Sheriff’s Office — a detail not included in the District Attorney’s report, which focused on criminal wrongdoing.
The report stated that jail staff waited about 15 minutes to enter Gaunt’s cell after an officer reported she could see from the cell window that Gaunt apparently was on the ground. The officer could see Gaunt’s feet moving and hear her making noises, according to the report.
That officer then went to the booking area and asked another officer to check the video feed of Gaunt’s cell.
But it wasn’t until 2:24 p.m. that a third officer entered the cell to do a check and found Gaunt unconscious on the floor, removed the blanket strip from the sink and attempted CPR, the report found.
Given signs that Gaunt was at risk in the jail, the response by those charged with her custody fell far short, said Wallace Doolittle, Gaunt’s former husband and a Bay Area attorney.
“They saw her tearing the blanket, they saw her modifying the water faucet plumbing. They saw her with strips of blanket wrapped around her feet,” he said. “That, to me, is a real red flag.”
Martin, the Lake County sheriff, said the jail’s policy is to fully ascertain the welfare of an inmate when it is in question, something that appears not to have been followed in this case. The Sheriff’s Office conducted its own separate investigation into the death.
“We expect our checks to be adequate to ensure the safety of anyone in our custody,” Martin said Wednesday in a phone interview.
He would not say Wednesday if Katherine Prince, the officer who made the first of the final pair of checks on Gaunt, at 2:09 p.m., was fired or resigned, citing state law providing privacy to law enforcement personnel in such cases. Prince was employed by the Sheriff’s Office for six years and her last day was Oct. 14.
The report released late Tuesday by Anderson summarized the District Attorney Office’s independent investigation of the death. It concluded that jail staff had “acted appropriately” in their supervision of Gaunt and that her suicide “was not contributed to, or caused by any member of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department or Correctional Facility personnel.”
“No wrongdoings have been found and there shall be no criminal charge filed on any individual in this matter,” the report stated.
Gaunt, a former substance abuse counselor who struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol, was taken into custody on the afternoon of Aug. 1 after deputies responded to a report of a woman in Nice banging on residential yard gates. She was arrested on suspicion of giving deputies false identification and being under the influence of a controlled substance, later reported to be a potentially toxic amount of methamphetamine.