Hours before his death, Alle.Co. Jail released a man with intellectual disability from custody

Anthony Talotta is the 17th man to die after entering the jail since the onset of the pandemic, the sixth such death in 2022

By: - September 27, 2022 6:30 am

Allegheny County Jail (Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism photo).

By Brittany Hailer

PITTSBURGH — Anthony Talotta, 57, died last week at UPMC Mercy Hospital after he was found unresponsive in his cell at the Allegheny County Jail. Talotta, diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability, was rushed from the jail’s mental health unit. The jail released him from its custody hours before his death.

Talotta is the 17th man to die after entering the jail since the onset of the pandemic, the sixth such death in 2022. At least three men have suffered a fatal medical emergency in a mental health unit in the jail in under three years.

Emergency services were called to the jail’s mental health unit Tuesday, Sept. 21, at approximately 7:30 p.m., according to jail medical and correctional staff who contacted the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jail staff raised concerns about Talotta’s medical treatment at the jail and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A physician on staff at the jail medically cleared Talotta after a first medical emergency was called, according to jail staff and administrators.

A timeline of Allegheny County Jail deaths in 2022:  

September: Anthony Talotta, 57, died at UPMC Mercy Sept 21 after he was transferred from the jail’s mental health unit and released from custody. Cause of death has not been released by the medical examiner.

August: Ronald James Andrus, 78, died August 14 in the Allegheny County Jail while held on a probation violation at the facility since mid-July, according to an email Warden Orlando Harper sent to the Jail Oversight Board. “He had been in the hospital for the last 10 days but was released earlier today to return to the jail. He had been back at the facility on the medical unit for about an hour when a medical emergency was declared,” Harper wrote. Andrus was declared dead by jail medical staff shortly before 4:00 p.m. on August 14.

July: Victor Joseph Zilinek, 39, died July 13 in the Allegheny County Jail, his cause and manner of death has yet to be released from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner.

April: Jerry Lee Ross Jr., 48, died at the Allegheny County Jail in April 29. Jail employees conducted CPR and Ross was declared dead by a medical provider at the jail, according to an email from jail spokesperson Jesse Geleynse. The cause and manner of death has not yet been determined by the medical examiner.

March: Gerald Thomas, 26, died March 6 at UPMC Mercy Hospital where he was taken after he suffered a medical emergency in the jail. Thomas died of a bilateral pulmonary embolism, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office.

January: Paul Spisak, 77,  died in January in a hospital after the court released him from Allegheny County Jail custody following an incident which left him unresponsive in his cell on Jan. 22.  The medical examiner determined that his cause of death was blunt force trauma. The manner of death was ruled an accident

“Later that night, a second medical emergency was called for the same individual. Medical personnel treated the individual on the pod before paramedics arrived and he was transported to the hospital,” Jail Spokesperson Jesse Geleynse wrote in an email.

Geleynse indicated that Talotta was released from the jail’s custody at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 21. Talotta died at 10:46 p.m., according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner.

Jail staff reported Talotta’s death and custody release to the newsroom for fear that the jail would not report the death to the Jail Oversight Board or public. In the past, the jail has failed to report deaths of incarcerated individuals who died after a medical release and jail administrators have told the Jail Oversight Board that individuals who are medically released are “no longer on our count.” 

“It angers me that they release them, it makes it look like it didn’t happen under their care, but it is happening under their care,” a jail employee told PINJ.

Geleynse would not confirm Talotta’s death.

“As we’ve stated before, after an individual is released from custody, the jail no longer has any access or right to view that individual’s health information. If there has been a death, the medical examiner’s office will release the name of that individual…,” Geleynse wrote.

Jail staff reached out to Talotta’s emergency contact at request of the hospital.

Talotta was arrested Sept. 9 in a residential living facility after he allegedly poured hot water on an employee, according to charging documents. He was charged with simple assault and aggravated assault and booked at the jail on Sept. 10.

A behavior request, which can result in an evaluation of Talotta’s competency, was submitted to the court, according to court documents. Talotta’s intellectual disability may have prevented him from participating in and understanding his own defense and trial. It’s unclear how those competency issues would have been resolved and if Talotta’s charges would have been dismissed due to his intellectual disability.

Talotta’s death comes a month after the office of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced a contract with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care to conduct a review of fatalities at the jail.

NCCHC recommends an administrative review and a clinical mortality review for every death in custody. In the event of a suicide, a psychological autopsy is recommended, according to the county press release. The review of fatalities is, according to the county, underway but there is no timeline on the report release date as of yet.

Brittany Hailer is a reporter for the Pittsburgh Institute of Nonprofit Journalism, where this story first appeared

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