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Report: Burley jail staff didn't check on inmate before his death

Report: Burley jail staff didn't check on inmate before his death

Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center

The Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center is seen June 25 in Burley.

BURLEY — Thomas M. Rettew lay in a jail cell suffering the effects of a meth overdose for 95 minutes before guards checked on him, decided he was detoxing and left. Three hours later, he was dead.

Rettew, a 38-year-old Rupert man was in a holding cell at the Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center for about four hours before his Jan. 17 death from acute methamphetamine toxicity, according to a Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office investigation.

A redacted version of the 154-page report was released late Monday, more than a month after the Times-News filed a public records request.

A Twin Falls County grand jury considered the case Feb. 13. Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Lori Stewart said no charges will be filed.

Jail policy says detoxing inmates should be checked on every 15 minutes, but the report says detention center staff that day were also dealing with an inmate who attempted to kill himself.

Cassia County Prosecutor Doug Abenroth, who is also Cassia County’s attorney, did not respond May 14 to a request from the Times-News for information on whether staff received any discipline or training after the incident. Cassia County Sheriff Jay Heward said the matter isn’t resolved but declined to comment further because he was in a training.

When he arrived Jan. 17, Rettew complained of not feeling well and during the next few hours, he had convulsions and vomiting. Detention staff was told he was “detoxing” from illegal drugs, according to the report. Officers were told to monitor him via video.

Rettew was arrested earlier that day in Rupert by a Minidoka County Sheriff’s detective on an outstanding warrant for a felony probation violation on a charge of possession of a controlled substance, The Twin Falls County report said.

Arresting officers said they saw Rettew make suspicious movements before he stopped his vehicle, but he never told the officers he’d ingested any substances. During the arrest, Rettew and two officers had a physical altercation after Rettew gave police a false name and failed to obey instructions, the report says. An officer tripped Rettew and he and the two officers fell to the ground.

Because Rettew complained of leg pain after the incident, an emergency medical crew was called to the scene, but he refused treatment, the report said. A small baggie with 2.6 grams of crystal substance was found in his pants pocket.

A 20-year-old male inmate who was in the holding cell with Rettew told authorities Rettew said he swallowed 2 grams of black tar heroin and 8 grams of methamphetamine and that he’d put .2 grams of heroin in his rectum before stopping his car prior to his arrest.

The holding cell inmate said Rettew became lethargic and mimicked lighting a meth pipe with a torch. He also tried to put his feet in the toilet and vomited. The inmate said he tried to monitor Rettew by squeezing his hand and talking to him, the report says. The man also put water on his own T-shirt and placed it on Rettew’s head to keep him cool.

When Rettew’s hand went limp and he became unresponsive, the inmate pounded on the cell door for help. Staff came in and began CPR on Rettew. The other inmate was taken to another cell.

Rettew was taken to Cassia Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:59 p.m.

During an autopsy in Boise, a small plastic baggie was removed from Rettew’s stomach.

Toxicology reports showed Rettew had amphetamine, which is a metabolite of methamphetamine, and methamphetamine in his blood after death. His blood also contained a nicotine metabolite and a narcotic antagonist used to counter the effects of opioid use. High doses of methamphetamine induce restlessness, confusion, hallucinations, convulsions and circulatory collapse.


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