Three people died at a Boston jail. Their families are desperate for answers


Boston Municipal Court docket Choose Thomas Kaplanes agreed that Johnson, a 35-year-old mom of two, was vulnerable to harming herself due to her dependancy. He ordered her to be taken into custody and despatched to a New Bedford remedy program, a course of referred to as involuntary civil dedication. Johnson was escorted from the courtroom simply earlier than midday, in keeping with the recording.

Hours later, she was lifeless.

The sheriff’s division picked her up from the courthouse at 2 p.m., in keeping with a spokeswoman for the court docket. She was taken to the Suffolk County Home of Correction at South Bay, the place she died alone in a “holding space” whereas ready to be taken to New Bedford, in keeping with the Suffolk Sheriff’s Division, which runs the jail. She was discovered unresponsive at 4:35 p.m. Efforts to revive her have been unsuccessful.

Forty minutes later, one other inmate on the jail died alone in a medical unit, officers mentioned. Edward Isberg Jr., 42, of Wilmington, was discovered unresponsive at 5:15 pm. and couldn’t be resuscitated, the sheriff’s division mentioned. He had been arrested yesterday for allegedly stealing instruments from a building website and was being held on $200 money bail, in keeping with court docket information.

The deaths got here just a little greater than two weeks after one other Suffolk inmate, 31-year-old Rashonn Wilson, “fell sick and was taken to the hospital the place he later handed below medical doctors’ care,” in keeping with the sheriff’s division. He had been in custody since March on a firearms cost, and was being held on $15,000 money bail when he died on July 12, in keeping with court docket information.

The three deaths have sparked protests exterior the jail and surprised relations, who mentioned they’ve acquired little or no details about how they died. Authorities informed them there have been no indicators of trauma, relations mentioned, and so they have been ready for toxicology outcomes.

In a press release launched shortly after Johnson and Isberg died, the sheriff’s division mentioned, “presently the 2 deaths usually are not believed to be associated in any approach, and foul play will not be suspected in both case.”

The Boston police division and the Suffolk District Lawyer’s workplace are investigating the deaths, in keeping with spokesmen, who declined to additional remark.

Ayesha Johnson, with her father, Reginald White, in 2020.
Ayesha Johnson, along with her father, Reginald White, in 2020. Reginald White

For Johnson’s relations, their grief is deepened by emotions of anger and frustration that their efforts to get her assist ended along with her dying. Her father, Reginald White, mentioned she had stopped by his Dorchester house that morning, reluctant to go to court docket. However after they spoke, she agreed that she would.

“We figured that is the one approach we are able to get our child again,” White mentioned in an interview from his house, the place he scrolled via footage of her on his cellphone. “I satisfied her to go, not figuring out that I might by no means see my child once more. It hurts me.”

Johnson’s household is demanding to know why she was taken to the jail when she had not been charged with against the law and was in dire want of remedy whereas going via alcohol withdrawal.

“She was an exquisite mom, an exquisite particular person,” mentioned Johnson’s brother, Antwonn Johnson, who has held her picture throughout latest rallies exterior the jail, joined by neighborhood activists who’re demanding accountability from the sheriff’s division. “We wish solutions and justice. We don’t know what occurred.”

Elizabeth Matos, govt director of Prisoners’ Authorized Companies of Massachusetts, mentioned the deaths increase issues about whether or not individuals being held on the jail are receiving the required medical care and remedy.

“Three deaths in a really brief time span in a single jail is an actual drawback, a serious purple flag,” she mentioned.

Since 2017, 13 individuals have died within the custody of the Suffolk county sheriff’s division, seven at South Bay and 6 on the Nashua Avenue jail, officers mentioned.

Isberg’s mom, Susan Isberg, mentioned her son, referred to as Jay, had underlying well being situations and had been taking methadone whereas attempting to beat opioid dependancy. Nobody has informed her why he was positioned in a medical unit and she or he hoped authorities tried every little thing they need to have to avoid wasting him.

Edward "Jay" Isberg Jr., 42, of Wilmington, in December, 2017. Isberg died in July while in custody at the Suffolk County House of Correction.
Edward “Jay” Isberg Jr., 42, of Wilmington, in December, 2017. Isberg died in July whereas in custody on the Suffolk County Home of Correction. Susan Isberg

“I’m glad that they’re doing an investigation as a result of I wish to know what occurred,” Isberg mentioned. “Their lives mattered.”

Isberg, a star athlete who performed hockey at St. John’s Preparatory College in Danvers and Saint Mary’s College of Minnesotawhere he studied environmental biology, grew to become hooked on heroin in his 20s, his mom mentioned. He fought laborious to beat his substance abuse, had been drug-free for a lot of the previous few years, and not too long ago accomplished a remedy program in Norton. However he relapsed shortly earlier than his dying and was staying at a homeless shelter in Boston and getting methadone remedy, in keeping with court docket information.

Throughout a latest cellphone name, he informed his mom how a person beside him had overdosed on heroin and was offended when Isberg used Narcan to avoid wasting him. He mentioned he was decided to avoid wasting the person as a result of he knew he was a father and considered how his kids would really feel in the event that they misplaced him.

“Jay wasn’t outlined by his battle with dependancy,” his mom mentioned. “He by no means misplaced his compassionate nature, and fiercely battled to keep up his sobriety.” She mentioned his household was happy with him and is devastated by his loss.

Isberg was arrested the day earlier than he died after firefighters rendered support to him below a bridge and alerted police that he had instruments that had allegedly been stolen from a building website in South Boston, court docket information present. He spent the evening on the Nashua Avenue jail, then was transferred to South Bay the following day, in keeping with the sheriff’s division.

In Dorchester, White mentioned his daughter was a loyal mom who beloved to prepare dinner and purchase items for her relations. She labored as a financial institution supervisor and an administrative secretary. However she misplaced her job in the course of the pandemic, and her life was in a downward spiral as she struggled with alcohol dependancy.

Johnson had voluntarily checked into remedy a number of occasions, however normally left after a couple of days and resumed ingesting, White mentioned. This time, the household sought court docket intervention to power her to finish a program. Underneath state regulation, judges might civilly commit an individual affected by alcohol or substance abuse to remedy for as much as 90 days if they’re deemed more likely to hurt themselves or others due to their dependancy.

Throughout Johnson’s listening to, a health care provider mentioned she had interviewed Johnson, her father and stepfather and located she was affected by extreme ingesting, despair and underlying well being situations. Johnson had not too long ago handed out twice attributable to low potassium and electrolytes and had been hospitalized for a few days, the physician mentioned. She beneficial Johnson be dedicated.

Johnson’s lawyer opposed her dedication, saying she had no legal document and was scheduled to start a brand new job. However the decide sided with the household.

A flyer being circulated by advocates who are supporting Ayesha Johnson's family's demand for answers. They have held a couple of rallies outside the Suffolk County House of Correction at South Bay.
A flyer being circulated by advocates who’re supporting Ayesha Johnson’s household’s demand for solutions. They’ve held a few rallies exterior the Suffolk County Home of Correction at South Bay.

Advocates have lengthy opposed sending individuals in want of drug remedy to jail and in 2014 Prisoners’ Authorized Companies and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts sued the state over its longstanding apply of sending ladies to the state jail in Framingham after they have been civilly dedicated for alcohol or substance abuse remedy. They argued that girls have been being handled as criminals and denied correct care, as they have been confined to cells. On the time, males who have been civilly dedicated have been despatched to Bridgewater State Hospital for remedy.

That swimsuit was dismissed two years later when a brand new state regulation was enacted requiring that girls who weren’t dealing with legal costs and had been civilly dedicated be despatched to a remedy facility authorized by the Division of Public Well being or the Division of Psychological Well being.

State Rep. Ruth Balser, who has proposed laws that will change remedy choices for males, mentioned Johnson’s placement on the jail, even quickly, appeared to mark a breach in protocol.

“What was she doing within the jail?” Balser requested. “The necessary level is that dependancy is an sickness. It’s not against the law. If somebody is so sick that they have to be dedicated for assist, they need to go to a hospital and never a jail.”

Peter Van Delft, a spokesman for the Suffolk Sheriff’s Division, mentioned Johnson “was lawfully in our custody pending transportation to the remedy middle that the courts had assigned her to.” She was to be transferred later that day, he mentioned.

He declined to remark additional, or say whether or not ladies are routinely held on the jail earlier than being transferred to a remedy program, citing the continuing investigation.

However Jessie Rossman, a lawyer who represented the ACLU within the swimsuit introduced towards the state, mentioned people who find themselves civilly dedicated for medical remedy mustn’t go to jail for any size of time as a result of the primary few hours of detoxing are probably harmful.

“If a decide has decided that somebody is at such a danger of hurt to themselves because of their substance or alcohol use dysfunction that they set off a civil dedication, that’s precisely the time when it’s most necessary for them to be at a facility the place they will start the medical remedy they’ve been ordered to obtain by the court docket,” Rossman mentioned.

Johnson’s aunt, Angela Ramos, mentioned the household believed she would go on to a remedy program or hospital and needs to know whether or not the sheriff’s division violated protocol by taking her to the jail. The household might have dealt with issues in another way if they’d identified that will occur, she mentioned.

“If it’s protocol, and I don’t assume it must be, I’m as mad as hell and it does have to be modified,” Ramos mentioned. “Keep in mind, she’s not a legal. She didn’t break the regulation. So don’t deal with her like a legal.”

Globe correspondent Kate Lusignan contributed to this report.

Shelley Murphy could be reached at Comply with her on Twitter @shelleymurph.


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