Mom: Son's suicide in jail could have been prevented

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The city of Doraville has agreed to pay a local mother $2 million after her son hanged himself using a blanket inside the city's jail.

Records show jailers failed to give him his antidepressant medicine and then didn't check on him for several hours. City policy mandates employees check on inmates every 20 minutes.

"It makes me very angry, very, very angry, and so sad," Debra Robton told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer.

Debra Robton has never watched the video that shows her son, Yoel Robton, looking anxious and desperate.

He repeatedly paced his jail cell, climbing up to look out the window several times.

"I know he wouldn't have done this unless he was below the barrel. He had to be so low and feeling so hopeless," said Debra Robton.

She had seen the darkness when her son was off his meds once before. That's why family brought his prescription to jailers following his arrest on a warrant, after a fender bender.

"You have to provide them their medication. You need to be checking on them. These are basic things that need to be done," said Jed Manton, Yoel Robton's attorney.

But an internal investigation following Yoel Robton's death found city employees violated their own policies.

There are supposed to be mandatory checks three times an hour. During the investigation, employees indicated that due to staffing shortages, those we often done by glancing at video monitors instead of in person.

Debra Robton says if they'd been done properly, a jailer might have noticed what her son was doing and prevented his death.

When Yoel Robton first tied his blanket around his bedpost at noon, no one noticed.

He slipped it over his head, several times.

At one point, he even sat down on the floor to test it out.

Around 5 p.m., a jailer delivered Yoel Robton's dinner and didn't notice the noose hanging in the cell.

Just after 8:30 p.m., Yoel Robton placed the blanket around his neck for the last time.

It took jailers 18 minutes to respond.

"It did not have to happen. It should not have happened," said Debra Robton. "He was just a very loving, loving kind soul."

Yoel Robton died at the hospital a few days later.

Manton says it took the city of Doraville nearly two years to release all of the details from its investigation, and settled the case shortly thereafter.

The city's insurance will pay the $2 million settlement.

"It wasn't about a lawsuit. It wasn't about money. It was about can you tell me what happened," said Manton.

In October 2014, the city recommended changing the blankets to brighter, more noticeable colors, cutting off the top bunk beds, and better staffing the jail to allow for more inmate checks.

"They knew that within months of this happening," said Manton, "So the delay of dragging it out for this much time, unnecessarily putting this family through the additional grief. It's a shame."

The Doraville police chief, mayor and city manager declined requests for an on-camera interview, but issued a statement saying they are still deeply saddened about what happened.

They have not yet provided records showing whether any employees were disciplined.

The jail has removed the top bunks from the beds and purchased a new kind of blanket that cannot be torn or tied into a knot.

Debra Robton is glad there have been changes, but knows nothing will bring back her son.

“I just wish he were here, just one more hug," she said.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.