Last Updated: 5:42 p.m.
At the Flagler County jail, you can’t say that inmates don’t look out for each other.
Several inmates in a felony block of the Flagler County jail Monday afternoon rushed to stop a fellow-inmate from jumping over a railing with a noose around his neck, preventing a suicide. Thirty seconds later four corrections deputies rushed in and helped inmates take control of the suicidal individual in a remarkable display of alert, quick and collective response to save a life.
“I commend the inmates and deputies heroic actions for helping save a life together,” said Sheriff Rick Staly, who intends to recognize the inmates formally and thank them for their assistance.
Though all the inmates involved in the incident are awaiting trial, and some have not been convicted on the particular charge that has them at the jail, they all face serious felony charges, and the inmate who rang the buzzer to alert deputies in the control zone was none other than Phillip Haire Jr, in jail on accusations of firing a gun at a deputy and at his parents, and allegedly threatening to put a hit on a county judge. Edward Sampson was also an inmate who alerted deputies by buzzer, and then helped deputies carry the suicidal inmate down the steps and out of the cell block.
Based on deputies’ incident reports and surveillance video provided by the Sheriff’s Office, the incident began at 1:23 p.m. Monday in a cell block referred to as “Golf Block,” for G Block. About a dozen and a half inmates are milling about uneventfully, some in their cell, some at the tables in the middle of the block. A few are on the phone.
The second-level cells’ balcony is grilled from bottom to top, presumably to prevent anyone from jumping or from throwing anything from the top. But the stairwell is without a grille.
And there, at the top of the stairwell, appears Tyrone Oxendine, 37, booked at the jail on Jan. 25 on a burglary charge. He is calmly and deliberately tying a white bed sheet to the top of the railing. At first no one is paying attention. Another inmate walks out of a cell on the second level, slowly passes by Oxendine, appears to perhaps exchange a couple of words with him, but passes him by and walks on. Two inmates with cleaning buckets and supplies appear on the ground floor walking toward the cells. They look in the direction of the man tying the bed sheet but make nothing of it. One goes on toward the cells, the other, Joshua Keyes, stops at one of the tables, then rolls his bucket toward the stairs.
Oxendine meanwhile continues, with chilling calm, to prepare his noose in full view. He’s caught the attention of at least one inmate, who walks toward the stairs, then back to a cell where Haire’s attention has also been alerted, and the two then more deliberately walk toward the stairs, talking to Oxendine. Oxendine then swiftly goes over the railing. He doesn’t jump. He actually goes over like someone just trying to go over a fence, holding on to the railing as opposed to just lunging off: the difference may have helped limit the damage to his neck.
As soon as he goes over, Haire, Sampson and others rush below him and stop his body from stretching the noose as others grab him from near the top of the stairs, trying to bring Oxendine back over the railing. An inmate signals to the control area, and soon after that four deputies run in toward the stairs, one or two of them immediately signaling to most of the inmates to get on the ground, a security measure for deputies’ safety: at that point, they have no idea whether the alert is genuine or a deflection by inmates who could be up to mischief. But that judgment appears to be made in a matter of instants as deputies join inmates on the steps and bring Oxendine back over, his legs flailing.
Sampson, who took the noose off the inmate (he’s at the jail on a probation violation: he’d been sentenced to community control on charges of robbery and assault last year), and two deputies, then carry Oxendine out. He was not seriously injured by the attempt, a sheriff’s official said later this afternoon, after Oxendine was taken to Florida Hospital Flagler.
“These guys really saved another person’s life,” Sheriff’s Cmdr. Mark Strobridge said. “Regardless of what they have done in the past, at this particular moment they did the right thing at the right time. In so far as the final commendation is going to be, we’re still working on that.”
Strobridge said bed sheets are part of inmates’ possessions at the jail. The incident is being reviewed. “We haven’t fully had the opportunity to get through that, we just had some preliminary discussions on it today,” Strobridge said. “There’ll be an evaluation process and such, but we’re not deep into it at this point.” The nature of the commendation for those involved in the save also is yet to be determined.
Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies have built a solid record over the past five years in non-lethal prevention either of suicides by cop or of police-involved shootings, de-escalating numerous incidents that objectively could have resulted in police shootings of individuals wielding weapons, either in confrontations with police or in suicide attempts. This is the first documented time an attempted suicide has been stopped by the combined actions of inmates and deputies at the jail.
Oxendine was arrested after allegedly burglarizing the property of Charles Cowart off County Road 305, and stealing numerous firearms there on Dec. 20. Cowart arrived at his home when a man he would later identify as Oxendine was walking out of his house, claiming he was there to see a man called “Adam.” Cowart tried to position his truck to keep the man from driving off, but the man drove off anyway. Cowart followed and was able to provide the make and a near-match tag number (he’d reported an O instead of a Q in the tag), which led back to a vehicle matching the description Cowart gave, at an address in Satsuma.
That vehicle was involved in a traffic stop in October 2016 on West State Road 100, when Oxendine got a written warning. Later, Oxendine’s photograph was included in a photo lineup and presented to Cowart, who identified Oxendine as the alleged burglar. He was initially charged with armed burglary, but when the state attorney’s office filed the charge, it was filed as burglary of an occupied dwelling, lessening the seriousness to a second-degree felony. When he got a notice to appear a year ago, his girlfriend appeared in Flagler court to inform the judge that Oxendine was at the Volusia County jail.
There too he’d been charged in a separate case with burglary of an unoccupied dwelling and grand theft with a firearm.
The Flagler case unfolded over 2017, with Judge Dennis Craig recusing himself last November and getting replaced by Judge R. Lee Smith. By then of course Oxendine was out on bond on both Flagler and Volusia cases. But this past Jan. 9, he was arrested by the Crescent City Police Department for resisting arrest without violence for the dubious reason of not handing over an ID when ordered by a police officer, even though not providing an ID to a law enforcement officer in the absence of a criminal context is not itself a crime. Oxendine was not driving at the time, and the arrest affidavit does not explain why his ID had been required. Based on that arrest, prosecutors moved to revoke his bond. They filed a second motion to revoke it: the very next day after his Jan. 9 arrest, he was arrested again by Crescent Beach Police–on three charges, including trespassing and threatening a witness, the latter a third-degree felony.
He was arrested and booked at the Flagler jail three weeks ago.
But Oxendine’s case also reveals suggestions of mental issues: Last November Judge Smith signed an order appointing an expert witness and psychologist to aid the defense. His suicide attempt on Monday only adds to that suggestion.
He has a lengthy record of arrests in Putnam, and St. Johns counties as well, resulting in three stints in state prison, each stretching roughly two years–for burglaries, grand theft and drug charges.
Oxendine was due in court Wednesday for a pre-trial. The case has been postponed to March 7.
Watch the save (it is not as graphic as the warning implies at the beginning of the sheriff-issued video):