Allegheny County hires outside group to investigate after deaths in county jail

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced the county has hired an outside group to investigate after 13 deaths in 2 years at the Allegheny County Jail.

The contract announcement comes just one day after the latest death – 78-year-old Ronald Andrus of McKees Rocks. According to the jail, he had been in a local hospital for 10 days and died just an hour after returning to the ACJ.

Allegheny County Councilwoman At-Large and member of the Jail Oversight Board Bethany Hallam says it’s long overdue.

“I’m skeptical. Of course I’m skeptical. But it’s a great first step,” Hallam said.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care will now review all deaths at the jail. Hallam told Channel 11 News she knew nothing about the contract until we contacted her for comment.

“So many issues that we could work towards, not just announce a partnership with an organization no one else knows anything about. So, I’m skeptical, but I try to be optimistic about it,” she said.

The NCCHC has been around since the 1970s and already has a relationship with the ACJ. The agency reviews and advises on suicides there.

“We’ve been asking for the DOJ. We’ve been asking for the Attorney General, even the PA Department of Corrections. Someone that doesn’t already have an existing relationship with the county jail,” Hallam said.

Channel 11 reached out to Warden Orlando Harper for comment and were provided with this statement:

“We are always looking for ways to improve our policies and procedures, and NCCHC is one of the top organizations for determining correctional best practices. Our top priority is the safety and security of the facility, and we look forward to NCCHC returning to the jail.”

“I will say it’s a step in the right direction, but I am withholding my true opinion until I see the results and I see how the information that is gathered is shared,” Hallam said.

We also reached out to the NCCHC to learn more about how they will be conducting the investigation but have not heard back. On its website, the organization says it does not comment about specific investigations.

The next Jail Oversight Board meeting is set for August 24 in the Gold Room at the county courthouse. You can also watch the meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRgC7gyGnUg6uNmkB6epb4w

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