Originally created 12/16/04

Man found dead in cell



State and local authorities are investigating the Wednesday morning death of a Richmond County jail inmate as a probable suicide, officials said.

Richmond County Deputy Coroner Charlena Graham identified the man as Robert E. Richardson, 38, of Belvedere, who was pronounced dead at 5:31 a.m. at the Law Enforcement Center at 401 Walton Way.

She said Mr. Richardson's body will be sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Atlanta for an autopsy.

County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he called the GBI to investigate the death and that his Internal Affairs division also is looking into it.

Gary Nicholson, the special agent in charge of the GBI's Thomson office, said Mr. Richardson was found dead at 4:55 a.m. when deputies opened cell doors for the morning wake-up call.

Authorities found that Mr. Richardson had stood on a sink, tied a sheet to a vent over the cell door and jumped off, hanging himself with the sheet, the agent said.

A bedsheet was found covering the bottom bunk of the cell, which blocked the view of Mr. Richardson's cell mate, Agent Nicholson said.

The sheriff and Agent Nicholson said a suicide note was found at the scene, but neither would discuss nor divulge what was written on it.

Sheriff Strength said Mr. Richardson showed no signs of suicidal tendencies and that deputies always ask inmates about that during processing into the jail.

Sheriff Strength said the last time deputies would have checked on Mr. Richardson was at 4:40 a.m. during "pill call" - when medicine is distributed to inmates.

"You hate to see this happen any time," the sheriff said, "but you have to be realistic. When folks are in those cells by themselves, they can do a lot of things. ... It doesn't take long."

The sheriff said Mr. Richardson, an inmate on the third floor, had been arrested in the early morning hours of Dec. 11 on charges of speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and driving without a license.

Sheriff Strength and Agent Nicholson said Aiken County authorities had an outstanding warrant against Mr. Richardson for high and aggravated criminal domestic violence.

Aiken County sheriff's Lt. Michael Frank, a spokesman for the agency, said the warrant was issued Dec. 11.

Authorities accused Mr. Richardson of attacking Yvonne Richardson by pushing, kicking and hitting her with a stick, Lt. Frank said.

Agent Nicholson said the findings of the death investigation will be forwarded to District Attorney Danny Craig for further action.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.