Family of latest person to die in Durham jail seeks answers

August 29, 2018
Jean McGirt

A woman who was found dead in the Durham County jail over the weekend is the 14th person to die at the jail in the last decade.

Jean Carolyn McGirt, 56, was found unresponsive in the medial unit of the jail on Saturday, and detention officers and first responders were unable to revive her, authorities said.

“The family is owed an explanation,” McGirt’s sister, Carol Covington, said Monday. “That’s all we want is an explanation as to what has happened to her.”

A spokeswoman for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, said McGirt’s death wasn’t a suicide, but she provided few other details pending the completion of an internal investigation and a review by the State Bureau of Investigation.

A report jail administrators filed Tuesday with state regulators noted that a detention officer checked on McGirt at 4:10 p.m. Saturday, and she was found unresponsive 15 minutes later.

Her body was sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh for an autopsy.

McGirt was arrested Friday during a raid at a home on Wabash Street and was charged with possession with intent to sell or deliver heroin, possession of drug paraphernalia, maintaining a dwelling for the sale of controlled substances, possession with intent to sell or deliver controlled substances within 1,000 feet of a school and resisting a public officer.

McGirt’s brother, Stevie Taylor, said he told police when his sister was taken into custody that she needed help for her drug addiction.

“I told the officers at the scene that my sister was real sick. I didn’t know particularly what was wrong with her, but they said, ‘That’s not our problem,’” Taylor said.

McGirt has a criminal record, primarily drug offenses, dating to the early 1980s, and she was convicted in 1999 of being a habitual felon.

Family members admit that McGirt had a drug problem, but they said they don’t believe that drugs had anything to do with her death.

“She’s a sweet and kind-hearted person. She would do anything for anybody on any given day,” Taylor said.

“At the end of the day, with this situation, I feel like what she was going through and whatever she was arrested for and whatever the case was, that’s not the issue here. The issue is finding out what happened to my mama,” said Tonisha McGirt, McGirt’s daughter.

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