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State releases names of suicide victims at Washington State Penitentiary
One of three inmates at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla who died by suicide in June was just eight months away from walking out of prison, that inmate's father said.
Timothy W. Hemphill, 35, was serving sentences for one count of second-degree burglary and three counts of possession of a stolen vehicle, crimes all committed in King County.
His father, Mitch Hemphill, said his son was scheduled to be released in February.
"He had plans," said Hemphill, who is still coming to grips with his son's death. "He wanted to come visit ... He had everything set up. (His ex-girlfriend) had him set up for housing when he got out."
Although he said his son had a "breakdown" and had to be moved to the psychiatric treatment area of the Walla Walla prison, his son still sounded well during the last several times he spoke with him.
Hemphill said his son was in prison for his crimes for about two years and had been transferred to Walla Walla — the state's largest maximum-security prison — about two months before he died.
And now, Hemphill said he has been given no information from Washington State Department of Corrections about his son's death. He said a doctor informed him that his son had hanged himself, but that is all he heard.
Questions such as how closely prison staff members watch inmates in the psychiatric area or whether his son had a cellmate who witnessed the suicide have all gone unanswered, Hemphill said.
Timothy Hemphill was one of three inmates who died by suicide in June within six days at the penitentiary.
The deaths occurred on June 10, June 11 and June 15. While the DOC has not confirmed the manor of death for those three inmates, Mitch Hemphill told the U-B his son hanged himself.
The other two men who died are Everette D. Alonge, 23, and Michael R. Giordano, 29.
Alonge was serving a sentence for a Yakima County conviction of possession of a stolen vehicle and a Spokane County conviction of second-degree organized retail theft.
According to an online Washington court database, his sentence from Yakima County was 19 months and his sentence from Spokane County was 17 months. Both sentences were being served concurrently.
Giordano was serving a life sentence for a first-degree murder conviction in King County.
Though Giordano was in prison for life, Alonge and Hemphill were set to be released soon.
Alonge's total sentence was for less than two years, and court documents indicate he has been locked up since at least 2022.
After a lengthy public records request process — and a back-and-forth with state officials about what the department must release — the Union-Bulletin was given the names of the inmates and the crimes for which they were convicted.
However, any results or conclusions of the investigation into how the suicides occurred and what prison officials are doing to deter more suicides have not been made public.
A department spokesperson said investigation details eventually will be released.
"Critical Incident Reviews were conducted for each of the three suicides at the Washington State Penitentiary," spokesperson Tobby Hatley said. "A Mortality Review was also conducted by DOC's Health Services division followed by the Unexpected Fatality Review process."
Hatley said the Unexpected Fatality Review is public and will be released online.
"The Unexpected Fatality Review will combine several aspects of each review and will result in corrective action per the Unexpected Fatality Review guidelines," he said. "This may or may not include corrective action items from the Critical Incident Review and Mortality Review."
As of Wednesday, Sept. 27, the reports about these three deaths had not been added to the department's website. In fact, there are no Unexpected Fatality Reviews for the Washington State Penitentiary listed for this year.
The Union-Bulletin was initially informed by inmates at the penitentiary about the three suicides. DOC officials confirmed the deaths after the U-B inquired about them.
Although results of the reviews are yet to be made public, the DOC has created a page on its website that addresses the issue.
According to the webpage, which can be accessed at bit.ly/docsuicides, the state also had a suicide and another attempted suicide at the Monroe Corrections Center within 35 days of the WSP deaths.
One of the Monroe incidents occurred in the same period as of the WSP deaths.
"This many incidents in such a short period of time is rare and warrants a close review," the webpage reads. "DOC is thoroughly reviewing and evaluating each occurrence. While these root cause evaluations take time to complete and will be reported on in the Unexpected Fatality Report, DOC feels it is in the public's interest to provide information on suicide prevention in state-run prisons to help bring awareness to this important topic."
In 2022, there were two suicides across all Washington prisons all year, a DOC spokesperson said in June.
According to the webpage, "The department invited national suicide expert Lindsay Hayes to visit our prisons and make recommendations to improve suicide prevention practices."
Hayes consults across the country on suicide prevention in correctional settings. He has served as a consultant to the U.S. Justice Department and a has served as an expert witness in several court cases.
According to the DOC webpage, Hayes made several recommendations.
First, he recommended the department create an alert screen in inmates' information in the program staff members use to keep track of inmates. This screen alerts staff of past suicidal behavior. According to the DOC, that recommendation has been completed.
Hayes also recommended the department look into providing private, confidential settings for mental health screenings at reception and restrictive housing units. The department reports it has also completed that recommendation.
Next, Hayes said the department should "develop guidelines for placement and care of individuals in need of the Close Observation Unit due to suicidality, meaning they have been identified as at risk for a suicide attempt." The department said it is working to complete that recommendation and others made by Hayes.