The admitted killer of 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera was not under a suicide watch when he used his sweatshirt to hang himself in a prison cell, state corrections officials said Friday.
Ryan Brunn, 20, was being held in segregation at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson while being processed into the state prison system two days after his guilty plea. He was found unresponsive in his cell around 4 p.m. Thursday and pronounced dead after being taken to an area hospital.
Mental health staff at the Jackson prison evaluated him Wednesday and opted not to place him on suicide watch, according to Kristen Stancil, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman.
The GBI found no evidence that Brunn’s death was anything other than a suicide, agency spokesman John Bankhead said. He added it only takes a few minutes for an inmate to hang himself like Brunn did.
“If a prisoner wants to commit suicide, he will find a way,” Bankhead said.
Brunn arrived at the prison about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, a few hours after pleading guilty to the murder and molestation of Jorelys in Cherokee County and receiving a sentence of life without parole. GBI investigators interviewed him for about three hours before he left the Cherokee County jail that day, and he showed no indication of being suicidal, Bankhead said.
Earlier this week, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said the public could benefit from Brunn’s life sentence because investigators could study Brunn and use what they learn to help solve future child abductions. Keenan said Brunn displayed the emotions of a sociopathic killer in court, in that he showed no remorse.
Brunn, who was a groundskeeper at River Ridge Apartments in Canton, told a judge he enticed the 7-year-old into a vacant unit on Dec. 2 to molest her. He then cut her throat and beat her over the head with a roller skate, because he feared she would go home and tell her family. He discarded her body in a trash compactor at the complex.
He was arrested Dec. 7.
Jorelys’ mother, Jocelyn Rivera, could not be reached for comment Friday. Upon hearing of Brunn’s death Thursday, Rivera said through a translator “This is the kind of justice that I was expecting for him for all the damage that he made to my little daughter.”
Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer for the Southern Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit legal advocacy center that specializes in prison conditions, said generally the Department of Corrections is required to provide prisoners adequate mental health care and take reasonable steps to prevent a suicide.
Failure to prevent suicide only violates the Constitution if a prison official or officials knew the prisoner was likely to take his life but deliberately disregarded it,she said.
Retired GBI agent and FBI trained profiler Ralph Stone said he would have expected Brunn to be on suicide watch, especially after admitting to molesting and killing a child and being given life without parole.
“He already knows in the general public that people hate him,” Stone said. “And this is a person who is just primed for suicide, so they need to be placed under a suicide watch.”
Jonesboro attorney Bruce Millar, who has handled about two dozen civil rights cases involving prison suicides, said prisoners only need something to put around their necks and something to anchor it to in order hang themselves.
“They can tie it to a bedpost, anything that might serve as a hook a doorknob, and lay so they’re suspended above the floor with enough pressure so they can pass out and die,” Millar said.
When an inmate does threaten self-harm, the prison should check on the inmate at irregular intervals so the inmate can’t time it, Millar said. However, Millar said it’s difficult to prevent someone from committing suicide unless they make an outcry.
Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison said Brunn was kept under suicide watch for about half of the time that he was in the county jail even though he never threatened or attempted to end his life. Jail officials took the precautions because they knew very little about him and because the crime he was accused of committing was so heinous, Garrison said.
Garrison said he arranged to have Brunn transferred quickly into state custody after the sentencing hearing because the jail is not designed for long periods of segregated confinement.
“I’m very relieved that it didn’t happen in Cherokee County,” Garrison said. “I’m sad that it happened, period. Obviously it’s our responsibility at the jail to protect and try to prevent that from happening, so we kept him under close supervision.”