Burned behind bars: Inmate threatening suicide gets lighter into jail cell

Burned behind bars: Inmate threatening suicide gets lighter into jail cell

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by Jamie Grey

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBJamieGrey

KTVB.COM

Posted on July 25, 2013 at 9:17 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 26 at 9:58 AM

COUNCIL, Idaho -- A 24-year-old inmate who talked about suicide and then hurt himself in front of Adams County deputies, set himself on fire in a jail cell later that day.

KTVB investigated the claims by the inmate, Mathew Karolski, and his family and asked officials for answers about how this type of incident could happen.

BAR FIGHT LEADS POLICE TO KAROLSKI

Early in the morning of July 10, Mathew Karolski got into trouble after a fight at a local bar in downtown Council.
 
Police eventually caught up with Karolski at his parents' house a few blocks away to charge him with several misdemeanors, including battery and being a pedestrian under the influence.
   
But when they got there, Mathew Karolski's mom says he had a knife and was cutting his arms. He was bleeding when deputies arrived.

"He was yelling, actually yelling at them: 'I want to die,'" said Mathew Karolski's mother, Cynthia Karolski.

INMATE'S MOM: 'THEY DIDN'T REALLY SEARCH HIM GOOD ENOUGH'
   
Karolski was bandaged up by paramedics, then taken to the Adams County Jail. He was first put into a restraint chair, but later into a cell. Cynthia Karolski says he was put into the cell with potential weapons in his pockets: two lighters.

"They just did a quick pat down and that was it -- but come to find out they didn't really search him good enough, and he had two lighters in his pockets, and he was suicidal, so he tried to kill himself again," Cynthia Karolski said.

KAROLSKI NOW IN UTAH BURN UNIT

In the cell, Mathew Karolski says he lit his bandages on fire and burned himself so badly he's now in a special burn unit in Salt Lake City and has had a painful skin graft.

Mathew Karolski spoke with KTVB on the phone from the hospital a couple of times, and said he wanted his story told because he wants others to know what happened.
   
He says he's been told his bills aren't going to be covered because the jail has told the hospital he isn't in custody.
   
With that information, KTVB started asking questions about who's responsible for what happened that night and the bills.

COURT DOCUMENTS SHOW INMATE'S INITIAL SELF HARM WAS DOCUMENTED

Documents obtained by KTVB show Mathew Karolski was taken into custody and booked. They also show a deputy knew Mathew Karolski was self-harming before being taken to jail. The deputy documented he had "cut himself", slammed his head on the floor, and said he wanted to kill himself.
   
But even after all of that, Mathew Karolski still ended up in a cell with two lighters in his pockets, so KTVB asked the Adams County Sheriff about search policies in his jail.

"At the time of the booking, everybody is searched, and prior to be put into a holding cell, they're always patted down for weapons," Sheriff Ryan Zollman said.

When asked if the policy was followed that morning, Zollman explained: "At this time, I cannot speak to that. We're doing an internal investigation to make sure the policy and everything was done correctly."

Zollman says the Payette County Sheriff's Office is handling the investigation into whether procedure was followed.

COUNTY PROSECUTOR AWARE FAMILY MAY ATTEMPT LAWSUIT

KTVB also talked to the county prosecutor, who said he's already received indication that Mathew Karolski's family may file a claim against the county, and wouldn't talk about the jail's safety or any changes in procedure.

"All I can do is tell you I like the people that work over there," said Adams County Prosecutor Mike Robinson. "I think they're trying to do a good job. I don't know the specifics of this incident, but if they changed their policy after this incident, it's not something I would talk about because for one thing, it could prejudice any jury if there ever is a trial if I talk about that."

Mathew Karolski and his family are talking to an attorney and say they want medical bills paid and the jail to accept responsibility for what happened.

"I feel like this all could have been avoided or prevented if they would have been doing their jobs," Cynthia Karolski said. "He's going to suffer for a really long time because of their negligence."

COUNTY TO COVER SOME BILLS, OTHERS REMAIN IN QUESTION

As for that custody question, the sheriff does say Mathew Karolski was in custody when the burns happened and until he was taken to Utah, so some bills, like the initial ambulance transport will be covered by county dollars.

"While a person is in custody, the county is responsible for those medical bills," Zollman said.
   
But the sheriff wasn't sure what may happen with the Salt Lake City burn unit bills. Because Mathew Karolski was charged with misdemeanors, and not felonies, deputies didn't have to keep him in custody.

To avoid paying to send a deputy to sit with Mathew Karolski in the hospital and to allow him to get treatment, Zollman says they issued the citations and formally released him from custody.

SHERIFF: 'I BELIEVE OUR OFFICERS DID EXACTLY WHAT THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO DO'
   
Although he is still waiting for an investigation to wrap, the sheriff says he does feel confident in what the deputies did that night, and says they will do everything they can to prevent these situations.

"We can't prevent every misfortune that happens. They're going to happen. We just have to learn from them and adjust what we do and move on," Zollman said.

There's no word on when the sheriff's investigation will be completed or when Mathew Karolski will be discharged from the burn unit. He believes he may go to a mental health facility next, which is what he says he wants to do.

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