Alone and desperate in his cell, Mark Glaze hung himself October 28 in the scandal-ridden Lackawanna County Prison in Scranton, PA. Locked up on drunken driving and other charges after he fled police in September, the national gun control champion died October 31 in a city hospital.
As a death knell for decency, county coroner Timothy Rowland’s emailed words ring cold.
“Cause of death is:
Anoxic Brain Injury
Ligature device applied to neck
Manner of Death:
“An autopsy was conducted,” Rowland wrote. “No records are public.”
Glaze, 51, lived his life as an eminent ally to people who work tirelessly to stop gun violence in America. A social justice advocate’s advocate, Glaze helped keep others alive.
American prison hardliners say you can’t watch inmates around the clock. Good prisons, if such a thing exists, rise to that challenge every day.
The names of local officials responsible for Glaze’s care will likely mean nothing to most of you reading this story. Despite Glaze’s accomplishments, unless you knew him he’s as easy to overlook as you and your family members are easy to overlook by those who don’t know you.
As you read this tale of loss, please remember the names of culpable government officials. Say their names out loud. These otherwise faceless political hacks want you to ignore them and their failures. They want to hide behind a veil of secrecy that allows their indifference to fester so they might sacrifice another inmate in the future.
Silence does equal death.
If we ever hope to save lives the way Glaze once did, we must blame those responsible for the deplorable administrative carelessness that compounded the frightening volatility of Glaze’s life.
So how can a vulnerable inmate under 24/7 lock, key and often camera surveillance, an at-risk gay man in prison, die by his own hand without some kind of negligence taking place?
Neglect killed Mark Glaze.
Ask any Lackawanna County official how an otherwise noble citizen as renowned as Glaze could hang himself in his cell and you’ll quickly understand what I mean. Nobody will give you a straight answer if they give you any answer at all.
If a person of Glaze’s stature can fall fatally between the cracks at this seedy dungeon, any suicidal inmate can die there. Glaze was not the first and won’t be the last to commit suicide in this rusted coal town jail.
Despite Glaze’s heartfelt dedication and courage fighting for gay rights, gun control rights and human rights, despite all the well-intentioned talk of prison reform, suicide prevention and rehabilitation, nobody protected Glaze when hope ran out.
If truth be told, few Lackawanna County public officials of any political persuasion care about what happened to Glaze here in President Joe Biden’s birthplace.
The most powerful political animals among them wallow in self-absorbed antics that define a stunted place teeming with parochial provincialism. The county prison doesn’t even have a chaplain. These brash beasts of bureaucracy even keep God from helping those lost souls who believe in such salvation.
Glaze’s family and friends tried to uphold his noble yet fragile legacy of giving in the words of his obituary published in the Washington Post
“As we celebrate the life of our beloved Mark, we would be remiss not to mention his harrowing struggle with alcohol, depression, and anxiety. In the last years of his life, Mark actively sought help. He completed several treatment programs, with the hope of finding peace and breaking free of the addictive cycle that caused him to feel so desperately alone and in pain. Mark took his own life while being held on DUI charges at the Lackawanna County Prison. While it may be difficult to discuss this specific cause of death, with suicide as the tenth leading cause of mortality in the United States – the numbers and instances are too frequent and increasing to ignore.
All who have been bereaved by suicide face a time of unimaginable grief, misplaced guilt, and unanswerable questions. We pray that by being open about Mark’s cause of death, something positive may emerge from our devastating loss. Perhaps our frank discussion may even save lives. Omission of the true cause of death allows mental illness to remain impersonal, a silent killer.”
Did county prison officials do all they could to safeguard Glaze’s safety during the months this troubled man endured in jail?
Scranton attorney Pat Rogan, who represented Glaze before he died, said he has no suspicions about the death of his client whom he saw in a Zoom hearing the day of Glaze’s suicide attempt. Rogan declined to say whether Glaze met with a psychiatrist or whether prison officials knew about Glaze’s ongoing battle with alcohol, depression and anxiety. Rogan said he sees nothing “diabolical” about Glaze’s death or the way prison officials handled his incarceration.
Sufficiently well respected in the legal community, Rogan is also politically connected enough to have been one of the first VIP guests sitting in the front row at Biden’s October “homecoming” infrastructure speech in Scranton.
Born in Scranton, Biden makes much of his roots. Not a public peep from the White House, though, about Glaze’s death in Scranton even though Glaze served President Barack Obama and then Vice President Biden as the administration’s go-to-guy for gun control.
With Biden’s national popularity plummeting more each day, you’d think he’d be more concerned with what happens to the true defenders of social justice when his own daughter, Ashley, sits on the board of the Pennsylvania Prison Society that advocates for inmate rights in places like her dad’s old hometown.
Lackawanna County Judge James Gibbons, who chairs the county prison board, failed to respond to emailed questions about the circumstances surrounding Glaze’s death, including whether Glaze even killed himself in the prison Gibbons oversees. Gibbons refused to say if Glaze’s death is being investigated by law enforcement officials and if not why not.
No surprise here.
When Gibbons ran for judge in 2013 he refused to meet with me and answer basic questions about a fatal 1984 car accident in which he struck a male pedestrian. The man died three days later. The district attorney at the time of the election (who now serves as a judge on the same court as Gibbons) told me he spoke with Gibbons about talking with me but Gibbons was afraid.
As I was looking for answers, the civil court case file about the accident disappeared from the Clerk of Judicial Records office, prompting a district attorney’s office investigation.
To this day nobody challenges Gibbons’ egotistical gutlessness and lack of leadership. Instead, they acquiesce to his authority.
Coroner Rowlands said he investigated Glaze’s death but refused to release that report or any other report regarding Glaze’s death.
The Pennsylvania’s Coroner’s Act mandates that all county coroners’ records are public and must be turned over each year to the county prothonotary, according to Pennsylvania Office of Open Records spokesman George Spiess. That includes autopsy and toxicology reports that could shed light on Glaze’s state of mind based on what drugs if any were in his system.
Lackawanna County Prothonotary Mauri Kelly said Rowlands has never turned over any records from his office.
The three Lackawanna County commissioners, Jerry Notarianni, attorney Debi Domenick and Chris Chermak, as well as their chief of staff Brian Jeffers – better known in Scranton by his nickname Dizzy – also refused to respond to my questions about Glaze’s death. County prison board solicitor David Solfanelli said he’d get back to me but failed to keep his word.
County solicitor Donald Frederickson responded in a pathetically unethical and juvenile email.
“I’m currently in the hospital recovering from surgery, not that an egoist like you cares, and it has been on my auto feed back (sic) that I am out for the week. You can contact the county communications directory for any additional info.”
For the record, my computer spam filter picked up Frederickson’s automated feedback email and I missed it. I wrote back that I hoped he got well soon, a promising outcome Mark Glaze never received from Frederickson or anybody else in Lackawanna County.
Prison Warden Timothy Betti wrote, “I am in receipt of your email. I have forwarded it to Traci Harte, who acts as the county’s Right to Know official.”
“I didn’t ask you for an open records officer referral,” I wrote. “I asked you specific questions for an article I’m writing for a national online magazine about a high-profile inmate with a history of severe mental health concerns including alcoholism, depression and anxiety who killed himself in the prison where you are employed as warden.”
Just in case he forgot, I sent Betti a link to Glaze’s obituary.
Betti told the county prison board at the November monthly meeting that the Scranton Police Department led the investigation into Glaze’s death.
Scranton Police Chief Leonard Namiotka refused my request for his department’s investigative report and photographs of the scene, but only after further clouding the tragic circumstances surrounding Glaze’s death.
“Upon checking with our Detective division, the case is still an active investigation. I am unable to release any information at this time,” Namiotka wrote in his November 22nd email.
“Lackawanna County Coroner Tim Rolands has officially ruled the death a suicide. What exactly is actively being investigated?” I replied to the chief.
“To get a copy of SPD report, you will need to file a RTK.”
That’s a formal right-to-know request.
“If, as you wrote, ‘the case is still an active investigation. I am unable to release any information at this time,’ why should I file a RTK? Why direct me to file a RTK ‘to get a copy of SPD report’ you earlier said you could not release? Please explain.”
The chief further muddled the matter.
“If the Coroner’s office officially ruled it a suicide, the case would not be active. I can not (sic) release a copy since you were not involved in case. This is why you will need to file a RTK for that report,” Namiotka wrote.
You’d expect a professional police chief and experienced detectives to know Rowlands ruled Glaze’s death a suicide before I did. Since Rowland did rule Glaze’s death a suicide, what are detectives investigating?
Prison incompetence is as good a place for the cops to start as any.
Namiotka’s turning an already pitiful inquiry into the 1950s Abbot and Costello comedy routine “Who’s On First” is simply unacceptable.
Because these people don’t take kindly to anybody who holds them accountable I don’t expect improvement any time soon, if ever.
America needs to know the truth about exactly what went down in Biden’s birthplace to a champion of human rights left to languish in a grim prison cell run by dangerous bunglers duty-bound to protect human rights.
If it can happen here it can happen anywhere.
With the way elected and appointed county officials – all seasoned sharpie Democrats except right-wing flunky Commissioner Chermak – continue to ignore Glaze’s suicide, it’s no wonder nobody in command was paying attention when Glaze killed himself in county custody.
Lawyers for Glaze’s estate will hopefully one day soon answer my questions in aggressive lawsuits charging civil rights violations and wrongful death. Lawyers also will hopefully refuse out-of-court settlements that in the past have sealed truth and protected death’s institutional enablers in a shameful glut of lawsuits against the county lockup.
Subpoena everybody responsible in any way for Glaze’s security. Put them under oath. Grill them about their deadly disregard for sound public policy that sacrificed a flawed hero on their watch.
My questions are basic: How did Glaze die? Did prison officials screen Glaze as a potential suicide risk? If so, did a psychiatrist examine him? How many suicides have occurred at the prison in the past ten years? Five years? How many of those deaths resulted in lawsuits? How many of those suits resulted in cash settlements?
Nobody would even provide me with a copy of the prison policy regarding screening all inmates for suicide prevention.
As Glaze’s obituary says, “If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States at 1-800-273-TALK.”
People care even if Lackawanna County prison officials don’t.
Mark Glaze knew as well as anybody how easy accessibility to guns increases the national body count, including suicide statistics. In this case, though, a loaded gun didn’t make it easier for Glaze to kill himself.
Heartless public servants did.