Unlucky Seven

Faced with an unprecedented rash of inmate suicides, St. Louis was slow to respond. Now there's a new jailhouse boss in town.

Even before they got the call, Loretta and Willis Lloyd suspected something was wrong.

Their son Lee Daniel Lloyd had phoned his mother every day since being incarcerated at the St. Louis Medium Security Institution on Oct. 18, 1999 -- even today, she smiles at the memory of the phone bills. But Lee -- Danny, to his parents -- didn't call his mother or other relatives on Feb. 20, 2000. When Loretta went to the workhouse, 7600 Hall St., that day during visiting hours, she was told her son wasn't allowed to see anyone. No one told her why.

Her son had been in jail before, and Loretta made sure his jailers knew he had problems aside from legal ones. Lloyd, 34, had bipolar disorder, diagnosed about five years earlier at a Columbia, Mo., mental-health facility after a scrape with the law involving drugs, his parents say. When he was booked at the workhouse, he told medical screeners he was under a physician's care and had been on medication until two months before his arrest. His parents say he did well when he took Depakote, a mood stabilizer commonly prescribed to control manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. Otherwise, he was prone to mood swings, going from upbeat and excited to depressed.

Jennifer Silverberg
Guards on break at the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, 7600 Hall St.
Jennifer Silverberg
Guards on break at the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, 7600 Hall St.

While on Depakote, Lloyd could hold a job, usually working as a laborer. "He never worked a job he couldn't go back to, and everyone liked him," his mother says. When he went off his medication, he was prone to crack binges. That only made matters worse. His parents believe a cocaine craving sparked the burglary spree that landed him in the workhouse. Lloyd was accused of breaking into 10 homes to steal mountain bikes, jewelry and computers, and his bail was set at $210,000. "He would do anything to try to not use drugs," his mother recalls. "He had tried to commit suicide because of the drugs."

Jail records and the Lloyds agree on at least one thing: Lee Lloyd had trouble getting Depakote and mental-health services in the workhouse. In mid-November, a nurse noted that his prescription was running low. By early December, Lloyd was complaining to his mother about not getting his medication and writing queries to jailers, asking to speak to someone about the problem. On Dec. 7, a nurse asked that a jail psychologist and psychiatrist evaluate Lloyd, who was almost out of his prescription, according to records. Loretta Lloyd says the situation was more serious than that. She says her son wasn't getting any drugs at all, and she had to take a supply from home down to the workhouse. She says her son told her the prescription got through. That she was allowed to get drugs to her son surprises her. "Why would they even let me give him medication from the outside?" she asks.

Investigative records don't mention that incident, but they do say Loretta Lloyd called the jail on Dec. 9 and told a captain that her son wasn't getting his medication and was threatening suicide. Loretta Lloyd says the files are wrong: Her son didn't threaten to kill himself at that time, but she acknowledges that he had been suicidal before his incarceration. The captain promised that her son would see a doctor soon. Four days later, a psychologist saw Lloyd and reported that he showed no suicidal signs. He was then allowed to call his mother, who also spoke with the doctor and told him that her son functioned well on Depakote. "He said, 'We'll take care of him,'" Loretta Lloyd recalls.

On Jan. 26, 2000, Lloyd asked to see a psychologist as soon as possible. It's not clear from jail records whether anyone responded, but a subsequent request for help on Feb. 16 wasn't granted. That wasn't uncommon, Loretta Lloyd says. "He asked to see him [the psychologist] a lot of times," she recalls. "He had written up a lot of requests to see him."

Four days after his last plea for a psychologist went unanswered, Lloyd began showing signs of breakdown. At 5:40 a.m. that Sunday, he got in an argument with another inmate, prompting jailers to move him to another housing area for his own safety. At dinner, he started throwing food trays. He told a guard he was angry because other inmates had been talking about his mother. Lloyd was ordered back to his dorm. When he got there, he discovered someone had stolen all the food he'd purchased from the commissary. While discussing the theft with a guard, he again began arguing with other inmates and was transferred to the pre-max unit, again for his own safety. The unit houses disruptive inmates, who are put in solitary cells, where they're supposed to be checked every 20 minutes. After his arrival, Lloyd complained to other inmates about not being allowed to use the telephone. "He was talking in a loud manner and sounded like he was very mad," a police detective later noted in a report of an interview with an inmate in a nearby cell.

At 8:34 a.m. the next morning, jailers found Lloyd hanging from a torn bedsheet tied to a ceiling vent. The knots were too tight to untie, and so jailers struggled to hold up Lloyd, who weighed 293 pounds, until a nurse arrived with a pair of scissors seven minutes later.

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