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Officials: Suffolk jail inmate's suicide under investigation

Sheriff's department cars are parked near the Suffolk

Sheriff's department cars are parked near the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverhead, Friday, Aug. 23, 2002. Credit: AP / ED BETZ

Suffolk County authorities are investigating the death of a jail inmate who committed suicide in his cell by hanging himself with a laundry bag, sheriff's department officials said.

Scott Yarwood, 34, of Wantagh, died Wednesday after being on life support at a hospital for four days, officials said.

Yarwood was being held in the Riverhead jail in lieu of $750 cash bail after being arrested early on Nov. 28 on three misdemeanors: two counts of menacing and one count of criminal mischief, according to court records.

He was arraigned later that day on the charges. At 12:15 p.m. on Nov. 29, a correction officer found Yarwood hanging in his cell on the jail's first floor.

Yarwood was alone and the cell door was closed, said Michael Sharkey, the Suffolk sheriff's chief of staff.

"The current estimate is less than 15 minutes elapsed until he was found," he said.

Yarwood's family said Saturday that he was "suffering from a mental illness" and the jail should have taken more precautions.

"The police were aware of his deteriorating mental status at the time of his arrest," Manhattan attorney Laurence Jeffrey Weingard said in a statement on behalf of the family. "They, together with correction officials, should have taken all appropriate measures to prevent this horrible tragedy."

Yarwood was not on suicide watch in the jail and showed no signs of suicidal behavior, Sharkey said.

"He didn't come in with any sort of red flag or notation from any sort of court document, or anything like that," he said. "He was only here for a day and there was no indication here that there would be an issue."

After the suicide attempt, Yarwood was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was placed on life support. He was pronounced dead at 6:42 p.m. Wednesday, Sharkey said.

The medical examiner's office determined that the cause of death was asphyxiation, Weingard said.

It was the second death of a Suffolk inmate this year, with the other inmate dying at a hospital from a pre-existing condition in May. The last suicide in the county jail system, which includes another lockup in Yaphank, was in April 2010, Sharkey said.

"We do everything we can to avoid it," he said of suicides behind bars. "The health department operates within our facility and runs medical screening, and psychiatric and mental health screening . . . If things [problems] are apparent or become apparent, other layers of precautions are taken."

Weingard said in his statement that Yarwood had "never been convicted of a crime."

The menacing charges stemmed from an August incident in Lindenhurst, according to court records, and resulted in a judge issuing a temporary protection order at the Nov. 28 arraignment.

The criminal mischief charge, which alleged an intent to damage property, came out of a Nov. 22 domestic violence incident in Huntington Station, according to records. Further details about the alleged crimes were not available.

Yarwood was picked up by police early Nov. 28 in the Newsday parking lot in Melville. Police did not explain why he was there, but his father, Dick Yarwood, was a longtime photographer for the newspaper.

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