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KBI probes inmate death

Staff writer

An inmate’s suicide attempt Saturday at Marion County Jail is under investigation by Kansas Bureau of Investigation after Julie E. Starks strangled herself with her shoelaces and died the next day at a Wichita hospital.

Starks, 38, Marion, had been sent to Larned State Hospital a few years ago for mental health issues, but was not on suicide watch Saturday, sheriff Rob Craft said.

When asked whether Starks was taken to Larned from the jail, Craft declined to comment whether it was deputies who transported her.

KBI investigates any inmate death that takes place in a Kansas jail or prison, “unless the inmate who dies is being regularly attended by a physician,” according to an email from KBI communications director Melissa Underwood.

KBI began investigating knowing the inmate likely would not survive, Underwood said.

Starks, known to jail staff from previous arrests, hadn’t been fully processed into the jail because she was not cooperating. Therefore, her shoes with laces had not been taken away.

“Normally, she’d calm down after a day and we’d get it done,” Craft said.

The suicide attempt occurred in the cell’s bathroom area, which was partially shielded from camera view for privacy reasons, Craft said.

A staff member had been with Starks to complete the booking process, he said. The employee left the cell for 15 to 20 minutes and found Starks in the bathroom when the staff member returned, Craft said.

Jail cameras are not continually watched, he said.

“They don’t have the personnel monitor cameras 24/7,” he said. “They have other duties they have to do, such as run the jail, move inmates about, book people in, fix meals, laundry. Dispatch also has that, but when they have phone calls and stuff they can’t monitor every minute.”

One former Marion County deputy said Craft’s explanation didn’t make sense to him.

Any inmate with mental illness, out-of-control behavior, or who came in with medicine to treat mental illness should have been under constant camera surveillance, the former deputy said.

Any shoes and laces, belt, or hooded sweat shirt strings should have been removed before Starks was ever left alone in her cell, he said.

“This is police work 101,” he said. “It comes down to the first week that you are taught these things.”

If the department knew Starks had mental health issues, there could be ramifications if the family files a wrongful death suit against the sheriff’s office and jail personnel, according to the nonprofit organization Legal Services for Prisoners.

How much history Starks had with law enforcement and how much notice the department had that she was a potential suicide risk would factor into any lawsuit, LSP said.

When Starks was found, jail staff began administering CPR, as did paramedics when they arrived.

The ambulance originally headed to St. Luke Hospital but instead drove to Newton Medical Center after medics were able to stabilize her, emergency medical services director Travis Parmley said.

Newton diverted the ambulance to Ascension Via-Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, where she was pronounced dead at 9:14 p.m. Sunday.

Starks had been arrested Friday morning by Marion police at Country Inn Motel on suspicion of criminal deprivation of a vehicle, battery of a law enforcement officer, and disorderly conduct.

Assistant police chief Steve Janzen had been called at 5:30 a.m. Friday about reckless driving and a possible stolen 2015 Ford F-250 at the motel. Starks kicked Janzen several times during the arrest.

The Ford was registered to CK Oil & Gas, Herington.

As a suspect who was not yet charged, Starks would have been presumed innocent. That would increase her rights, LSP said.

Starks previously was jailed June 29 to Sept. 10 on warrants alleging four counts of failure to appear in court and suspicion of interference with law enforcement, Jan. 5, 2018, on suspicion of possession of hallucinogenic drugs and drug paraphernalia, and Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, 2017, on suspicion of arson and falsely reporting a crime.

She was convicted Sept. 27, 2019, of possession of methamphetamine and sentenced Sept. 9 to a year’s probation.

She was convicted Sept. 27, 2019, of interference with law enforcement and sentenced Sept. 15 to a year’s probation.

She was charged June 6 with interference with law enforcement. That case was not resolved.

Last modified Dec. 11, 2020

 

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