Family Speaks Out About Benton Inmate Suicide, Calls For Protoco - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Family Speaks Out About Benton Inmate Suicide, Calls For Protocol Changes

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BENTON COUNTY, WA. -- A Benton County family has questions after their son committed suicide inside the Benton County Jail over the weekend. Suicide is a topic that is very difficult for many of us to talk about. But according to his parents, Michael Shea was talking about his problems when he took his life in a Benton County Jail cell Friday night.

That leaves his loved ones wondering, could more have been done to prevent this from happening? 

A table full of memories. That's all Piper and Kary have to remember their son Michael. 

"He was a football player though and through," Piper Flood said. "He was more proud of this than anything."

His parents will be the first to tell you that 22-year-old Michael Shea had problems with mental health and drinking. But that doesn't lessen the loss they feel.

"The light in my heart is gone," Flood said. "And it will never come back."

Michael had been in the Benton County Jail several times over the last couple years. Ever since he threatened to kill himself in jail after one such arrest, they thought he would always be under suicide watch while behind bars.  

"When they told me that that's what happened, I said no, you were watching him." Flood said. "You were watching him."

"Something had to have popped up," Kary Cook said. "There should have been some history there."

Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane told us each inmate answers a questionnaire about their overall health when they are processed. Michael had been in the jail several times since he was placed on that suicide watch. And his most recent questionnaire showed no threats of suicide. 

"It doesn't mean that we're going to sit on that and just accept it," Sheriff Keane said. "We're going to do everything we can and that's why I've worked so hard to get a mental health facility and we've designed protocols to help reduce these things but they're not 100%."

The Sheriff says they're constantly working to improve their system. The Benton County Jail system has half the state mortality rate. In the next year, the county plans to build a mental health wing in the jail to better supervise inmates with mental health issues. But for Piper and Kary, they think more needs to change to prevent this from happening again. 

"There needs to be a system or protocol in place where it wouldn't matter, once that's person's flagged, they're flagged forever," Kary said. "I don't care if they're branded or labeled, put them in a safe cell where they can't hurt themselves in."

Then they wouldn't just have the pictures to remember their son by.

If someone you know is exhibiting behaviors of depression or has talked about killing themselves, there are phone numbers to call where you can get help. The number for the local Mental Health Crisis Response Unit 24 hours a day is 783-0500.  The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1 800-273-8255.