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Vt. inmate tries to kill herself with windshield washer in sheri - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. inmate tries to kill herself with windshield washer in sheriff's cruiser

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

A Bennington mom wants to find out how her daughter almost died while in the back of this sheriff's cruiser. She calls this a case of extreme carelessness after a deputy left windshield wash within her suicidal daughter's reach.

"You can have that same scenario a thousand times over and nothing would have happened," said Sheriff Kevin McLaughlin, Chittenden County Sheriff's Department.

On this day something did happen and someone could have died. WCAX got ahold of police car video. It shows a pair of sheriff's deputies flying down the highway for help after an inmate in the backseat tries to kill herself.

"She got ahold of windshield wiper fluid. How," asked Dawn Senecal, inmate's mom. 

The inmate's mom can't believe it happened. She asked us to investigate.

"I want to make people aware of this," said Senecal.

Here's what we uncovered: the Chittenden County Sheriff's Department was transporting her daughter from a South Burlington prison to a court hearing in Bennington on January 19. It's their job to keep everyone in the car safe. Seasoned officer, Sgt. Scott Costella was driving with Deputy Michael McCormack that day.

Their report reveals the hearing didn't go well. On the way home the inmate was upset slamming her head against the window and screaming. About 1 mile from the courthouse, Costella saw in his rear view mirror the inmate drinking a bottle of windshield washer fluid.

Reporter Jenifer Costa: What was your reaction when you heard about this?

McLaughlin: I was kind of like, what? You've got to be kidding me.

The sheriff says his deputies immediately grabbed the bottle from the woman, but admits his officers had made a big mistake.

"Well, I mean it's her fault that she did it, but it should not have been there. It shouldn't have been there. Because of that lack of oversight, it's not appropriate that was there," said McLaughlin. 

"They should not be allowed to be able to get that kind of stuff. I don't know if she was handcuffed," said Senecal.

We checked and she was shackled with a waist chain, handcuffs and leg restraints. Still she was able to get the sealed bottle from the floor and open it without either officer noticing.

"You guys are really stupid. I was drinking it for ten f****** minutes back here," said the inmate. 

On the back of the the bottle It says "Danger. Poison. May be fatal or cause blindness if swallowed. If medical advice is not available induce vomiting with a finger or spoon."  

We don't know if either officer says anything to help or console this suicidal woman because we found out sheriff deputies are not expected or required to wear their body microphones during prisoner transports.  
   
The first time we hear them talk to her is six minutes after she ingests the poison as they're trying to get her out of the back of the car where there is a microphone.

Officer: How are you doing? You feel sick at all? We're worried about you. Do you want to lean out and try to get sick? 

Inmate: No. I want to hold it in so I can die. 

Costella tells his boss he "overlooked the windshield washer fluid" when he cleaned out his car. The sheriff says this mistake is the result of complacency. 

"I think they should be punished because they told us they would never let anything like that happen," said Senecal. 

Senecal says the Department of Corrections knew her daughter was suicidal and had a history of self-harm, but in a sworn statement Costella says that information was never shared with the sheriff's department. 

Costa: Would it help you guys do your job better if you knew more about these people that you were transporting?

McLaughlin: Yes. 

"It's not only about my daughter, it's about every inmate up there," said Senecal.

Her daughter survived though she's worried about long term kidney damage. As a mom she warns that if nothing changes this could happen to anyone who's ever been despondent in the back of a police car.

"I just don't want to see it happen again to anybody," said Senecal. 

McLaughlin says there was a disciplinary hearing, but says he's barred from sharing what happened because it's a personnel issue. He did say he'll use this scenario for future trainings.
   
We reached out to Corrections too. The commissioner didn't really give us a direct answer. She released a statement saying,

"I can't speak for the Sheriffs regarding what they were aware of. Unfortunately without a signed release I can't speak about this specific case.  In general it is our practice to pass on information to the transporting authority." The written policy is for DOC staff doing transports, in addition,  the practice at each facility is to share information with the Sheriffs. I would also think that the Court transport order issued to the transporting authority would have valuable information, for example the type of hearing or place an inmate is being transported to."

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