Sunday, November 19, 2017
Public safety

Third inmate this year commits suicide in Pinellas County Jail

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LARGO — Hours before he was scheduled to appear in court to face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, Larry Kobielnik killed himself.

Deputies found him hanging by a shoelace early Thursday in the shower of his single cell, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Kobielnik is the third inmate to commit suicide in the Pinellas County Jail this year, the second to kill himself after being convicted.

His death will be investigated, but Gualtieri said the suicides do not warrant a special review of procedures for evaluating the mental health of inmates.

"Just because that happens doesn't mean that there's anything improper or irregular or that we did anything wrong," he said Thursday.

A former Tarpon Springs police and Transportation Security Administration officer, Kobielnik, 38, was arrested in July 2013 on charges of sexual battery and impersonating an officer. He was convicted Wednesday of raping a woman at his Dunedin home after picking her up in Clearwater, telling her he was an officer and handcuffing her, the Sheriff's Office said.

His sentencing hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday. Instead, Kobielnik used the lace of his shoe to kill himself. Inmates are allowed to keep their shoes unless they are boots or contain metal.

In April, David Brice Tyler, 56, was found guilty of soliciting to commit murder. Seven weeks before his sentencing, Tyler, a convicted sex offender, hung himself in his cell with a bedsheet.

In a third case, England Wilson, 32, was being detained on federal firearms and robbery charges. He was found hanging from a cell gate with a sheet May 23 as deputies escorted inmates out to recreation, the Sheriff's Office said.

Attorneys representing Kobielnik and Wilson said they were shocked and did not observe any suicidal behavior from their clients.

"There was no indication," said Kobielnik's attorney, Brian Pingor. "The last thing we talked about was him doing his appeal."

Tyler, however, said he was suicidal and had written graphic letters about his desire to die, said his attorney, Deborah Moss.

"People who are facing this type of devastation are probably going to have a thought that they want to kill themselves," she said, "and we have to watch them very closely."

But deputies didn't notice any indications that any of the men were at risk, Gualtieri said.

"Sometimes, these things happen," he said. "You do the best you can."

The last jail suicide reported before this year occurred in October 2011.

Jackie Allen Randall had been on suicide watch in a Hillsborough jail before he was transferred to Pinellas, where he was also placed on suicide watch. He was examined and cleared to go to a maximum-security cell, where he hung himself. Randall had an upcoming trial on charges of escape and robbery.

At the Pinellas jail, which has an average daily population of roughly 3,000, inmates are placed on suicide watch after being evaluated by a mental health professional if the inmate requests an appointment or if another inmate or deputy notices any suicidal behavior.

Potentially suicidal inmates are housed in single cells at the jail's health care facility, where they are dressed in a paper garment and monitored by deputies and cameras 24 hours a day. Cameras also monitor common areas and corridors of the jail, but are not located within most cells.

Inmates are not routinely evaluated after being convicted, the sheriff said.

At the Hillsborough jails, inmates sentenced to between 30 years and life in prison are given a mental health evaluation, said Maj. Paul Adee, who oversees the medical unit. But other than that, he said: "the key to this is if the person is exhibiting symptoms."

The Pasco County jail also doesn't evaluate recently convicted or sentenced inmates unless something warrants it, said Maj. Ed Beckman.

It is difficult to predict what someone will do and when they will do it, he added, noting a suicide at the Pasco jail this year.

Theodore Diller, 70, who was on trial for the first-degree murder of his wife, intentionally fell head-first from the second floor of the facility. Diller died at a hospital of his injuries, Beckman said.

Sometimes, Beckman said, "the person doesn't exhibit any kind of warning signs. They just do it."

Times staff writer Claire Wiseman contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

 
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