Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

April 19, 2012

Inmate death: Authorities review jail protocol


VALDOSTA — As state authorities look into the death of a Lowndes County Jail inmate, local officials are reviewing procedures.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is probing the death of Terrell Rizer, 19, who was found dead, hanging in his cell Saturday afternoon. On Friday, Valdosta police arrested and charged Rizer in the April 11 murder of Timothy McKinney of Valdosta. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was also notified of the death.

Valdosta Police Cmdr. Brian Childress told The Times that following the arrest, Rizer made comments during a taped interview about his own well being. Childress didn’t specifically say what those comments were but that they warranted concern for the suspect’s safety.

“We do not take those threats lightly,” Childress said. “We followed through our proper procedures when a suspect makes threats of any kind, whether the threats are to self, law enforcement or others.”

Following Rizer’s interview, a Valdosta police sergeant called the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office jail intake personnel to relay the information concerning a potential suicide threat. After Rizer was processed at the jail and placed into an isolated cell, he requested to see the interviewing detective from the police department again in order to show where the murder weapon was kept.

After the weapon was retrieved from the location, the inmate was taken back to the jail by a transporting officer who, again, told jail personnel about the suicide threat upon arrival.

 Childress said he is not aware of the jail’s intake procedures, but he does know Valdosta police provided the person in charge of booking the inmate with the information concerning the threat. The commander said as soon as he received word about the inmate’s death, he attempted to contact the family members, and he contacted the GBI concerning the recorded threats made by Rizer.

While police reported a threat, Lowndes County sheriff’s personnel claimed Rizer showed no signs he may harm himself at the jail.

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine showed the initial intake report to The Times. The report states that Rizer repeatedly told the jail’s nurse he was not suicidal; therefore, the nurse did not find any indication that he was. Rizer was not on the routine suicide watch but was isolated from the rest of the inmates for protection. A video camera was placed outside of his cell to ensure that no one entered or exited.

“Without seeing some reason to place someone under suicide watch, we don’t normally do so,” Prine said. “They must display suicidal tendencies. We did protect Mr. Rizer from the rest of the population just in case there was a family member of the victim in the jail.”

As an on-going investigation, the sheriff could not discuss further details of this case, but Prine did speak on jail procedures.

Unless the inmate shows signs of harming himself, it is not the practice of the jail to house the person under the suicide watch guidelines.

The sheriff said a thorough evaluation is performed on inmates. If the nurse is either told by the inmate or believes the inmate will cause bodily harm, the inmate is placed under watch. The sheriff said each case is handled on an individual basis. In this particular case, the inmate expressed several times to jail personnel that he was not a threat to himself.

Prine has requested the GBI investigate Rizer’s hanging. The sheriff also commanded his department’s internal affairs review the pertinent policies and procedures to ensure jail personnel handled the situation properly. Prine said the proper protocol was followed in this case.

The Times contacted GBI Agent Steve Turner who would not speak on specifics of the case but did say he received all reports from the sheriff’s office and is combing through them.

“We have launched an investigation into the incident and cannot comment on the details of the case or protocols of the sheriff’s office at this time,” Turner said.

With Rizer’s death, Police Cmdr. Childress is compiling a full report on closing McKinney’s murder case. He will file this report with the Southern District Attorney’s office. The police department wants to ensure the DA’s office is in agreement with closing the case.

“After witnesses’ testimonies, a full confession by the suspect and other information collected, we feel we arrested the right person and no others were involved in the crime,” the commander said.

He also commented that the motive appeared to be an argument between the two men involving illegal narcotics. Approximately a half hour to an hour later, the homicide occurred, Childress added.

A report from the Valdosta Police Department stated that at 4:16 p.m. Wednesday, April 11, an officer was dispatched to the area of Jaycee Shack Road and Park Avenue in reference to a medical call involving an unconscious black male on the railroad tracks south of the intersection. It was later discovered that 33-year-old Timothy McKinney was deceased from several gunshot wounds to the torso, reports stated.

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