Family member speaks out about inmate death

Dec 12, 2013
Mike Hardin is pictured in a recent mugshot on file at the Haywood County Sheriff's Office.

State authorities have taken over the investigation into the death of a Haywood County inmate Monday evening.

Though authorities have not yet released the inmate’s name, Canton resident Lee Hardin said the sheriff’s office informed her family of the death of Mike Hardin, her first cousin, late Monday.

According to a press release from the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, the inmate was found unresponsive in his jail cell around 9:40 p.m. He was being held in a cell by himself. Upon making the discovery, detention staff sought emergency assistance. Emergency Medical Services transported the man to MedWest-Haywood, where he was later pronounced dead.

Per protocol, the sheriff turned the investigation over to SBI. The cause of death has not been released.

Though Lee Hardin remembers her cousin as a kind and gentle person, she said he began using drugs and alcohol at an early age, which she believes led to his downfall.

The 51-year-old had been homeless for several years and Hardin said she often stopped and gave him money and support when she saw him out on the street. But after he stole from her parents several times, it was difficult to allow him into their homes, Hardin said.

“That’s what drugs and alcohol will do for you. It destroyed his life,” she said.

Mike Hardin’s parents and a brother passed away several years ago, leaving him without any immediate family, she said.

Hardin said she felt melancholy after hearing the news, knowing that her cousin had lived a difficult life. She said she wishes she had been able to help him more, but she finds comfort in knowing that he isn’t suffering anymore.

“He doesn’t have to be cold and he doesn’t have to be hungry anymore,” she said.

Mike Hardin had several pending charges against him at the time of his death including misdemeanor larceny and possession of stolen goods, for which he was scheduled to appear in court Dec. 11. He was also due in court at later dates for four separate counts of second-degree trespassing.

Authorities from the SBI have not yet returned information requests regarding the investigation.

This isn't the first time an inmate has died while in custody. A lawsuit was brought against the sheriff's office after 20-year-old Jessica Martin's in-custody death while awaiting her court appearance in 2011. Though then Sheriff Bobby Suttles requested SBI to investigate the incident, the state declined to probe the death.

Martin's family also sued the county, prison nurse and the sheriff's office insurance company, alleging negligence caused the death. The family dropped the case a year later after a mediated settlement for an undisclosed amount.

The county now has a contract with Southern Health Partners, which provides a registered nurse who visits inmates six days a week for six hours at a time, said Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher. The nurse facilitates any needed physician, mental health or hospital visits.

The partnership limits legal liability when it comes to jail related injuries or death.