So Who Failed Him?
This story contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 (TALK).
On June 20, Jermelle Joseph Madison Jr., also known as “Melle,” was booked into the Clackamas County Jail following an “ongoing mental health crisis.” said Caysha Clayton, the family’s spokesperson, in a statement to Double Sided Media.
The same day, his grandmother, Lynette Madison, contacted the jail and expressed her concern regarding his safety and wellbeing considering his ongoing mental health crisis and having been booked.
Her concerns might have been heard. But they weren’t taken seriously.
On July 3, just 13 days after being booked, Jermelle was pronounced dead at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center.
According to jail records, Madison was found unresponsive in his cell around 4:30 p.m. on June 28. His family wasn’t notified of what had happened until 9:30 a.m. the next morning, when they were told that he had hanged himself.
Now—nearly a month later—the family still has yet to receive answers to their questions. They still haven’t heard from the Clackamas County Jail.
Madison Jr. hadn’t been in trouble before December 2020.
It was around this time that his father—the only consistent parental presence he had in his life–other than his grandmother who would often step-in to help—was diagnosed with cancer. Prior to the diagnosis, Madison Jr. was “a happy go-lucky kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly” and “a beautiful soul,” said Clayton.
With his mental health deteriorating, Madison first got into trouble and was booked into the very same jail on Dec. 21, 2020—notably placed in the Medical Observation Unit—before being transferred to Oregon State Hospital in Salem for treatment. There, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and prescribed medication.
He was arrested by Sergeant Crystal Hill of the Milwaukie Police Department. According to his grandmother, Sgt. Hill was “a sweetheart.” Jermelle and Sgt. Hill had a prior relationship – while Madison Jr. was in high school, he often found himself skipping school. Hill was his truancy officer; they eventually became friends.
Madison Jr. was also assigned a mental health coordinator named Charlesetta Dobson from Central City Concern. According to the family, Dobson helped arrange his housing, treatment, and would drive him to his court dates.
For his housing, he was sent to the Golden West Hotel in Downtown Portland, where CCC provided monthly vouchers for his stay.
“They put him in [there] with no mental health support [and] it’s drug city,” his grandmother said. He also stayed at a Ramada in Southeast Portland.
Madison’s uncle, Gionni Gambino, a drug and alcohol program manager with The Fathers Heart and who works with people with mental health disorders dealing with houselessness at Share House, personally visited Dobson and gave his contact information and told her that if she ever needed help to call him. It’s not like he was unqualified to do so either. He is a certified recovery mentor and a certified drug and alcohol counselor.
“I never got one call from her,” Gambino said.
Madison Jr. was doing better and was thriving until May 29, 2021 when his father unfortunately passed away. Following this, his mental health began to deteriorate again.
“Straightening my trajectory will help everyone,” he told his step-mother, Michele Madison, via text on June 2. “I keep my nose clean but my temper has been very unstable for my rehabilitation. I think Clackamas County’s mental health system has been very effective in making it worse.”
“Oh yeah, they are a shit show,” she replied.
He stated that he was going to “file a claim.” adding that “they refused to even ask about my mental health issues and my current situation.”
“They didn’t even let me ask where they were taking me,” he wrote. “And I have a witness that seen everything.” His step-mother later wrote “Clackamas is the worst. I tried calling up there and left a message. They never called back [after telling] them I was your mom and concerned with your health.”
He, of course, never wanted to go back to jail.
“[Jermelle] said that they would treat him bad and tease at him (sic). He had mental health issues,” his grandmother recounted him saying.
A Failed System
He missed a court date, though, and a warrant was issued. His coordinator, Dobson, allegedly had left for a vacation and had neglected to inform Madison Jr. or his grandmother about the court date or her vacation– nor did she inform anyone that his housing voucher for his hotel stay was expiring.
On June 20, officers with the Milwaukie Police Department arrived to arrest Madison Jr. for the outstanding warrant. Clayton said that the police “made it seem like they were going to hurt him,” .
Out of concern, Madison Jr.’s grandmother did the only thing she could think of to help her grandson in the midst of a mental health crisis: she called Sgt. Crystal Hill, the officer that he knew with the MPD, to be the one to arrest him for the warrant. She also notified Sgt. Hill of his mental state following his father’s passing.
“Officer Hill promised his grandmother that she would not let [him be hurt] and that she was letting [the officers] know he was in a mental health crisis as they spoke,” Clayton said.
His grandmother “hoped they would help get him help again and that he would be in a safe place,” Clayton said. As noted previously, Madison Jr. had been housed in the Medical Observation Unit and was transferred to Oregon State Hospital.
After he was driven away, she contacted Mindy Coronado, a mental health court coordinator for Clackamas County, and expressed concern about Madison Jr.’s health and security. Over the phone, Coronado promised her that he would be taken back to Oregon State Hospital.
His grandmother also contacted the jail—as she did the next day, too—and “communicated the concern that he was not safe alone and [that] he needed to be [placed] on suicide watch,” Clayton said.
They also didn’t house him in the proper unit. The classification process wasn’t completed and he was placed in the general population.
(Double Sided Media reached out to Sgt. Hill but did not receive a response.)
This Could Have Been Preventable
[A screenshot from the Clackamas County Jail’s website that outlines the kind of healthcare that is provided for those in custody.]
On June 28, Madison Jr. was found unconscious in his cell in the Clackamas County jail at approximately 4:30 p.m. Around 5 p.m., he was checked-in to Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center and was placed on life support following a lack of oxygen for 30 minutes.
It wasn’t until about 9:30 a.m. the following day that his family was notified that he had hanged himself. When asked how this happened as he was supposed to be on suicide watch, the responding officer who arrived with the chaplain said “well, they wear clothes don’t they?”
He died less than a week later.
The family has never received further contact from the jail or had any of their many questions about the circumstances surrounding his death answered.
Clayton called and the lieutenant who answered said that she “did not feel comfortable answering even hypothetical questions” about the process and procedures in her facility.
What Happens Now
The family hasn’t received any answers to their questions about what happened — other than “well, they wear clothes don’t they?”
“We lost a beautiful soul,” Clayton said. “The family only made that call in hope that they would help him and it is sad that now the call for help is a regret.”
Double Sided Media reached out to Charlesetta Dobson to get her side of the story and asked how this could have been prevented. We did not receive a reply from her. Instead, we received an email from the Associate Director of Communications & Donor Relations of Central City Concern, Laura Recko.
In the email, Recko said “all deaths are tragic” and that she could not disclose any information due to HIPAA laws which regulate private medical records.
Recko ended the email with “CCC’s goal is to always provide compassionate and human-centered care. We mourn the loss of all lives lost and offer our deepest condolences to the family affected by this tragic event.”
At this point, the family just wants answers. They don’t understand how a system built to protect those with mental illness could lead to someone killing themselves as a result.
“How the hell do you diagnose him in jail, put him on meds, keep him there for five months in that ward[?],” said Madison’s grandmother.
“He wasn’t in general population then, so, why did [they] put him in now?”
Editor’s Note: This article is based on a statement from Caysha Clayton, the spokesperson for the family of Jermelle Joseph Madison Jr, his friends, and those who he was in jail with.