2009-06-26 / Top Stories

Local Dies In Rhode Island Custody

By Howard Schwach

On the evening of June 27, 2005, Rockaway resident James Davis-Reed drove away from the peninsula on a journey that would leave him dead this week in a Rhode Island maximum security prison.

He drove all night to Middletown, Rhode Island to find his ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Joiner, who had fled to the New England state to escape him. He sneaked in through her kitchen window, officials say, where he found a 10- inch kitchen knife in a drawer.

Davis-Reed attacked Joiner's 14- year-old brother, who was watching television on the living room couch, stabbing the teen several times in the neck, chest and back before chasing Joiner and her new boyfriend up the stairs.

The couple suffered stab wounds as they tried to barricade themselves in an upstairs bedroom.

Police arrived before anybody would die, and they quickly corralled the Rockaway man as he ran out the back door of the house. A police officer who helped to arrest Davis-Reed said that he was crying and covered with blood.

When the officer asked him why he tried to kill the people in the house, he reportedly replied that he did it because he "loved them like a brother."

A Rhode Island judge ordered a mental competency hearing for Davis- Reed. He was found incompetent to stand trial and was moved to the forensic unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital, the locked unit for mentally ill criminals.

Officials say that Davis-Reed responded well to treatment and was reevaluated on December 4 2007. At that time, he was deemed competent to stand trial for attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

His Legal Aid attorney asked that Davis-Reed be retained at the hospital until his trial was completed, and state officials agreed.

He stayed in the hospital for two more years, pleading guilty to five felony counts. Under his plea agreement, he was to serve 15 years in prison. The plea bargain was accepted on February of this year. After three years in the hospital, he transferred to the state's Adult Correctional Institute known as the ACI, which holds the largest collection of the state's mentally ill prisoners.

Officials say that Davis-Reed went downhill quickly after the transfer.

"He had engaged in some self-injurious behavior which called upon us to place him in a smaller setting," officials at the ACI told Steve Peoples, a reporter for the Providence Journal, who was working on the story, adding that he had been knocking his head against the wall and attempting to injure himself "to get the devil out."

"He is by no means the only inmate who has been self-injurious in our setting," the officials added. "Sadly, we're accustomed to seeing that behavior. It may not be routine, but it is not particularly rare. He had been with us for only five weeks, and lots of mentally ill inmates have trouble settling down at first whenever that is a change in circumstance."

Investigators told Peoples that he banged his head against the wall until his teeth were loose and he clawed at his chest repeatedly.

Prison officials moved him to a special segregation cell within the highsecurity unit. There, prisoners are held in isolation under 24-hour-a-day video surveillance and psychiatrists visit three times each week.

It is common, officials say, to keep the prisoners in restraints, as was done to Davis-Reed that Thursday morning. Officials say he was bound in a four-point restraint earlier that day, with restraints on both his wrists and ankles, but that the restraints were removed.

Then, officials say, he removed all of his clothing and "rolled himself into a fetal kind of ball," according to one state official who spoke with Peoples. "He managed to roll his head into a crevice between the bed and the wall, and he could not get out. He suffocated. It is unclear whether he was trying to kill himself."

The state medical examiner has ruled that the death was due to "positional asphyxia."

Both state and prison investigators are trying to find the truth in his death, but many advocacy groups are blaming the prison and the way he was treated in his last days for Davis-

Reed's death. All told, 62 people died at the ACI

since 2001. The prison lists 13 suicides over that time, including 11 by hanging.

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