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Sheriff Cabral backs Mass. jail after Craigslist suicide

Lyle Moran

Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral defended the safety record of the jail where a man accused of killing a masseuse he met through Craigslist committed suicide.

Cabral said Boston’s Nashua Street jail has one of the lowest suicide rates in the country. In the last eight years, she said, only five inmates have killed themselves, including Philip Markoff.

Markoff, 24, was found dead in his cell last Sunday as he awaited trial in the 2009 killing of Julissa Brisman, of New York City. Authorities say the former medical student made a scalpel from a pen and a piece of metal, inflicted wounds in his neck, arms, wrists and ankles, cut his carotid artery and covered his head with a plastic bag.

Cabral backed the jail during a news conference.

“I find nothing amiss or in need of change in any of our policies,” she said.

Cabral would not answer questions about the investigation into Markoff’s death, including how frequently jail officers checked on him. She said jail policies call for guards to check inmates in the general population every 30 minutes and to check for signs of breathing or body movement. Inmates on suicide watch are checked every 15 minutes.

She said jail officers have been disciplined in the past for not making rounds, but she would not say how frequently such disciplinary actions had taken place.

Cabral said jail cells are searched thoroughly for contraband four times a year and separately at random times. She said Markoff’s cell block was last searched in June and was scheduled to be searched again last Wednesday.

She held up a standard jail-issued pen, designed to be flexible so it can’t be used as a weapon. Any other type of pen is considered contraband, she said.

She said inmates are allowed to have the flexible pens to communicate with their attorneys, friends and families and are allowed to have clear plastic bags so guards can see what they buy at the jail canteen and carry to their cells.

Cabral said inmates find ingenious ways to make weapons, such as using hard candy and magazines to inflict injuries.

“There is no way that you can build or run a correctional institution and have everything permanently affixed to a rock-solid structure that can’t be broken,” she said. “If it were possible you would essentially have to build the place out of Styrofoam, and even then you would still have an issue.”

Cabral was asked about photos of Markoff’s jail cell aired last Tuesday night by Boston’s WFXT-TV and posted on its website. The photos showed a wall with Markoff’s former fiancee’s name written on it in block letters, a crumpled clear plastic bag, what appeared to be a homemade scalpel and a display of pictures including Markoff and his fiancee. She said investigators will try to determine from surveillance tape who took the pictures.

Markoff was found dead in his cell on the day after what would have been his first wedding anniversary. His fiancee, Megan McAllister, called off their wedding shortly after he was arrested in April 2009.

Authorities said Markoff scrawled the words “Megan” and “pocket” in his blood on the wall of his cell after he cut himself.

Markoff had been placed on suicide watch for several weeks after his arrest in Brisman’s killing.

Brisman, 26, was beaten with a gun and shot three times at a Boston hotel in April 2009. Authorities alleged Markoff lured her there and botched a robbery to support his gambling habit.

Markoff also was charged in the armed robbery of a Las Vegas woman at another Boston hotel, and Rhode Island prosecutors accused him of attacking a stripper that week.

Markoff had met all three women through Craigslist advertisements for erotic services, prosecutors said. His trial in the Massachusetts cases had been scheduled to take place in March.

Associated Press