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No officers face discipline in suicide hanging

Published Oct. 9, 2005

None of the officers responsible for overseeing an Inverness man who hanged himself in the Citrus County jail Wednesday night will face disciplinary action, sheriff's authorities said Friday.

Robert Joseph Groccia Jr., 28, of E Queensbury Lane, was found dead in the jail's drunk tank. Sheriff's officials say he became unruly while being booked and was placed in the cell until he calmed down. When corrections officers checked Groccia, they discovered he had hanged himself by his shoelaces.

"At this point, we do not anticipate any disciplinary action as a result of this incident at the jail, nor do we believe corrections officers acted improperly or performed their duties negligently," said Gail Tierney, sheriff's spokeswoman.

Tierney said jail officers have procedures to follow to ensure an inmate's safety while being booked. However, there are no procedures for handling an inmate who is unruly or abusive, as Groccia reportedly was.

"There are going to be situations where an inmate is abusive and uncooperative," she said. "You deal with the situation you come up against. How you handle the situation depends on that inmate's behavior. Procedures are flexible for unruly inmates."

Groccia was arrested for public intoxication and carrying an open container near the Royal Oaks subdivision. Officers say when he arrived at the jail, he was abusive and unruly.

Unable to book Groccia, officers placed him in a holding cell, then moved him to the jail's drunk tank, a small room with a toilet, a sink and a cement bench.

"Given the circumstances and the behavior of the inmate, corrections officers handled the inmate in a manner they deemed as appropriate," Tierney said. "He was simply being abusive, verbally abusive. People there said you could hear him outside the jail as far as how loud he was speaking."

Groccia had been taken into custody for his own protection last month under the Baker Act, but Tierney said jail officials could not have known that because they have no way of checking Groccia's records.

Tierney said Groccia was allowed to keep his shoes and shoelaces because he had not exhibited behavior that would be considered suicidal.

"If the inmate gives us any indication that he would harm himself, the shoelaces would be removed before he is placed in the drunk tank," Tierney said, "but if he's just unruly and gives no reason to believe he might harm himself, the shoelaces might not be taken before they put him in.

"If you ask whether this suicide was preventable, I'd say yes. If an officer was assigned to be with that inmate 100 percent of the time, never take his eyes off of him and be there constantly, it could have been prevented _ all suicides could be prevented," Tierney said.