Since his final arrest in October, for allegedly stabbing a longtime friend, English had begun a mental evaluation process his family hoped would get him the help he needed. But D.C. police and corrections officials are now investigating his death, which a medical examiner in Maryland has ruled a suicide by hanging. It was the first suicide at the jail since 2009.
His mother, Margaret English, said her son’s death is an example of how difficult it can be to help someone with a pronounced mental illness, even when family members and criminal-justice workers know the person is a danger to society and himself.
A spokeswoman for the corrections department said the jail has procedures to prevent inmates from killing themselves while in custody. She declined to release details about English’s case, including whether he had been considered at risk for suicide.
English said her son’s mental issues worsened over the past few years and became acute in college, causing him to drop out of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania his junior year. People who knew him at McKinley Tech High School in the District said English, who graduated in 2008, was smart, fun-loving and not a troublemaker.
“He was a good kid,” said his mother, who hopes his death will bring more attention to mental-health issues. “Jail is not an appropriate place to be for people with mental illness. I don’t want his death to be in vain.”
English, 22, hanged himself with a bedsheet one month after entering the D.C. jail. He had been locked up since Oct. 30, charged with stabbing a sleeping friend with a butcher knife at English’s home.
A witness told police that English was seen on top of the man and holding a knife. When police arrested English hours later, he had blood on his clothes, according to D.C. Superior Court documents. English said he attacked his friend because the man had tried to touch him in his sleep, an assertion he repeated many times about different people in his life, records show.
The friend, who survived the stabbing, is recovering from a punctured kidney and other injuries.
Shortly after his arrest, English told a Saint Elizabeths Hospital psychologist that he was having hallucinations and hearing voices.
“The voices tell me all sorts of stuff. . . . Sometimes I listen. . . . Sometimes they tell me to do things. . . . Some are women screaming at me. . . . Sometimes I see weird things,” English told her during a Nov. 16 jail visit, according to a report she filed with the court. He told her he was taking psychotropic medications while jailed.