Deaths continue at Pima County Jail as 2 men commit suicide in last week
Over the last week, two men committed suicide at the Pima County Jail, apparently strangling themselves in their cells, authorities said.
Hugh Gillespie Burford, 50, and Amin Shaheed Muhammad Ali, 40, were both found by guards after hanging themselves in their cells, said a spokeswoman for the Pima County Sheriff's Department.
Around 7:50 p.m., on Nov. 15, corrections officers were performing rounds at the Pima County Adult Detention Complex on Tucson's West Side when they found Burford dead in his cell, Deputy Marissa Hernandez said.
Burford had tied a pair of socks to a toilet seat and his neck, strangling himself in his cell, Hernandez said. Corrections officers immediately entered the cell, and began emergency life-saving measures with medical staff while waiting for the arrival of medics from Tucson Fire Department.
After attempting to resuscitate Burford, medical personnel pronounced him dead, Hernandez said in a news release.
Five days later, on Sunday around 4:26 p.m., corrections officers made their rounds in the pod of cells at the complex, and "found all inmates secure," said Hernandez. Approximately 10 minutes later, officers made a second round and found Ali strangled in his cell. Ali apparently tied a sheet to the top bunk bed with the other end around his neck and hung himself. Corrections officers again attempted life-saving measures while they waited for TFD, she said in another news release.
In both cases, detectives from the Criminal Investigations Division, part of PCSD, responded to the jail, and "found no signs of trauma and no suspicious circumstances," said Hernandez.
Burford was in jail after he was found guilty on two drug charges, including solicitation and possession of drug paraphernalia on October 12. An additional charge for a "dangerous drug violation" was dismissed by the court. Burford had been charged more than a dozen times since 2013. This includes a case in 2016, when he was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia in Oro Valley and ordered to attend drug treatment. He also faced charges for shoplifting in 2018.
Ali was at the jail, being held on charges "related to introducing contraband into a corrections facility," said Hernandez.
Pima County's jail has come under increasing scrutiny after 10 people died at the jail in 2021, once every 31 days. Thus far in 2022, nine people have died while in custody at the jail, including Burford and Ali.
This includes 37-year-old Wade Welch, who died on Aug. 16 after he was shocked with a Taser at least a half-dozen times during a 30-minute incident, officials with the Pima Regional Critical Incident Team said on Aug. 24. PRCIT officials said Welch became "combative" after he was moved to an assigned cell, and repeatedly refused to follow the orders of corrections officers. Other men have died from "acute fentanyl intoxication."
In February, dozens of people protested in front of the jail, decrying the conditions. Since then, a growing coalition of families have pushed for a review of policies at the jail as deaths have continued.
As public defenders Joel Feinman and Sarah Kostick noted in a guest opinion for the Sentinel earlier this year: "Last year was the deadliest year at the Pima County Jail since at least 2009. In 2021, one person died in the jail approximately every 31 days – the majority of them young men of color 'found unresponsive in their cells.'
"2022 is on track to be even deadlier; already this year two more young men have died in the jail’s care and custody," they wrote.