Racine County Jail deaths, protests follow

A reportedly suicidal man arrested for arson. Another arrested for OWI. Both booked into the Racine County Jail within hours of each other. Both would die, just days apart, while in custody.

Ronquale Ditello-Scott Jr., 22, was found unresponsive in a holding cell on May 29, according to the Racine County Sheriff’s Office. Then on June 1, sheriff’s officials say Malcolm James – who was on suicide watch – suffered a "medical event" while being medically evaluated by jail staff after repeatedly slamming his head into a concrete wall.

The two deaths in four days now being investigated by the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department, jail staff involved in the death of James on administrative leave; the deaths also prompting protests in the days that followed, and questions from loved ones as well as an attorney representing Ditello-Scott’s family.

Pictures of Ditello-Scott dotted decorated picnic tables at Veterans Memorial Park in Delavan Friday afternoon, June 4. About two dozen of his family, friends and loved ones preparing to spend the evening remembering the young father.

"We’re heartbroken. Our kids are without their father due to whatever is going on in that jail," said McKayla Mackey, a former partner of Ditello-Scott, the two of whom share a child. "We want justice, we want peace, we want answers, we want to know why he’s gone. He should be here with us right now."

Ronquale Ditello-Scott Jr.

It was on May 29, at around 2:30 in the morning, Racine County Sheriff’s Deputies got a report of an impaired driver. Sheriff’s officials say the vehicle was eventually pulled over.

The driver, Ditello-Scott, told deputies a mechanical problem was the reason he was driving over the center line, but later admitted to smoking marijuana in the hours prior to the traffic stop, according to a press release. During a search of the vehicle, the press release said deputies found marijuana, drug paraphernalia and open intoxicants; Ditello-Scott failed a field sobriety test and was taken into custody for a number of charges including a second OWI.

Later that morning, Ditello-Scott would be dead.

Ronquale Ditello-Scott Jr.

According to a timeline provided by the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, Ditello-Scott was taken to the hospital following the traffic stop where he consented to a blood draw, booked into the jail at around 5:30 a.m., and allowed to go to sleep in a holding cell. Nursing staff checked on Ditello-Scott at around 7 a.m. and said he was snoring and the color of his skin appeared normal.

However during a subsequent check, less than an hour later, the sheriff’s office said Ditello-Scott was "yellow in color and not breathing." Life-saving measures were attempted, but Ditello-Scott was pronounced dead at the jail.

"We want answers and we demand justice for him," Mackey said.

Ditello-Scott’s death in the jail would not be the last.

Protesters in Racine the night of June 3, following the death of a man in custody at the Racine County Jail.

Several dozen protesters took to the streets in downtown Racine Thursday night, June 3, chanting the name of Malcolm James.

"We just want this to stop. When is it ever going to stop?" one protester told FOX 6 Thursday night.

James, 27, was booked into the Racine County Jail at around 3 a.m. on May 29 – the same day as Ditello-Scott – according to the sheriff’s office. Officials said in a press release that James was placed on suicide watch in a "high visibility cell" because of a recent suicide attempt. While in the jail, sheriff’s officials said James tried to hurt himself multiple times, including "smashing his head into a concrete wall," prompting James to be taken to the hospital for treatment.

Malcolm James

James was charged on June 1 in Racine County Circuit Court with arson and 14 counts of recklessly endangering safety.

According to a criminal complaint, James called emergency dispatchers on May 28. Court filings say James told dispatchers he "didn’t know what to do." Dispatchers and officers who spoke to him on the phone believed he was suicidal, saying he didn’t want to die and asked for officers not to kill him, court filings said.

When officers arrived to his apartment at 2425 19th Street, the complaint says James was exiting his third-floor apartment. Smoke was coming out of the doorway, the smoke detector was going off, a fire was on the stove and another in the hallway.

A total of 14 people were evacuated from the building and the fires put out. James was taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Filings say he told police he intentionally set his clothes on fire.

Protesters in Racine the night of June 3, following the death of a man in custody at the Racine County Jail.

James was slated to appear before a judge on June 1 on the arson and other charges. Online court records say he refused to appear, and the matter was rescheduled for the following afternoon.

However, later that evening, the Racine County Sheriff’s Office said James was smashing his head into a concrete wall so violently it was "audible to jail staff." Officials said as staff tried to evaluate James, and prevent him from harming himself, he "experienced a medical event" and became unresponsive.

James did not regain consciousness and was pronounced dead.

Racine County Jail

Each death is being investigated by the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department. Autopsies are being handled by the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office. The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department said it has no further information to provide and that the investigations are ongoing.

"This is an outrage. There is something really, really wrong going on down here," said Chicago attorney Kevin O’Connor, who has been retained by family of Ditello-Scott, and says he has been in talks with members of the James family.

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O’Connor said he questions the narrative of events detailed by the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, the use of the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department to investigate the incidents, and intends to pursue independent autopsies.

"There is clearly something bad going on," O’Connor said. "People should not be dying when they’re in the custody of police, in jail."

Racine County Sheriff's Office response

The Racine County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement released Friday it immediately requested the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department conduct an independent investigation into the deaths of Ditello-Scott and James, the only in-custody deaths in the county this year.

In the statement seeking to dispel misinformation regarding the deaths, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling asked for the public to remain calm as the facts are gathered by investigators.

Racine County Sheriff

"Until the process runs its logical course of determining the truth of what occurred in these cases, and until I am able to release the facts of what the truth is, we ask that people to remain patient and remain peaceful during these emotional times," Schmaling said.

Schmaling said his office has a "long-term commitment" to transparency, noting that deputies and correctional officers have been issued body-worn cameras for years, and upgraded cameras in county correctional facilities add another layer of accuracy of events. And that conducting interviews, collecting evidence, waiting for autopsy and toxicology reports, and documenting it all takes time.

"I cannot request this enough, please remain calm and wait for the facts of these cases to be determined," said Schmaling.

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