Wayne County: Ex-Cop’s Suicide Fuels Feud

Detroit Free Press
January 19, 2009

An ongoing feud between Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Sheriff Warren Evans continues to intensify and has caught in its cross fire the family of a jail inmate who committed suicide.

Christopher Cole, an ex-Detroit cop with a controversial past, wasn't placed on a suicide watch at the Wayne County Jail when he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after a crash that left another man in a coma, despite claims by others that he warned that he would kill himself.

Evans' staff says the county's mental health staff assesses the needs of inmates during the intake process and should have detected suicidal tendencies. Ficano's staff counters that sheriff's deputies should have kept a closer eye on Cole.

Evans and Ficano are in the midst of a months-long battle over proposed budget cuts, a fight that has landed in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Last Monday, Cole, 46, of Macomb Township entered the Wayne County Jail after his bond was raised from tether release to $500,000 at the request of police officers. He was arrested Jan. 9 after police say he crashed into a car driven by Gary Holcomb, 22, of Detroit about 1:30 a.m. at the westbound I-94 service drive and Yorkshire.

Cole's lawyer, Mike Rataj, said Cole's former colleagues told sheriff's staff that Cole needed to be on suicide watch and that Cole said he would kill himself rather than go to prison.

Two nights later, he hanged himself with a torn bed sheet in his jail cell and was found dead Thursday morning and left several suicide notes, Rataj said.

"I don't think there's any question that the sheriff had information from the police that Chris Cole was suicidal," Rataj said.

Cole's was the second suicide in as many days at the jail.

Cole's 49-year-old brother, Michael Cole, said his brother had a long history of threatening suicide when he got into trouble. Christopher Cole had three drunken driving convictions and struggled with drugs, his brother said.

In 2001, he was acquitted of federal drug racketeering and civil rights abuses while four other cops were convicted of looting drug houses and gamblers. But, despite being cleared of the charges, Cole's friends and family said, he never got over the case.

He retired from the police department in 2005.

After the Jan. 9 accident, Cole "was absolutely devastated and the thought that he had hurt someone was the last straw," Michael Cole said. "I knew his intention was to get out on bail and hurt himself. I didn't want him to get out."

After his bond was raised, Christopher Cole called his 22-year-old daughter, Phaelyn Cole, and spoke cryptically, she said.

"He started telling me, no matter how everything turns out that he wanted us to know that he loves us no matter what," said Phaelyn Cole, who lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Grosse Pointe Park attorney Kevin Geer, who represents Holcomb's family, said Friday that Holcomb is in a coma at Detroit's St. John Hospital. He was in critical condition at the hospital Sunday, a hospital spokesperson said.

John Roach, a spokesman for Sheriff Warren Evans, agreed that Cole should have been on a suicide watch, but was instead placed in general population.

"Somebody needs to ask the county executive for answers," he said of Ficano. "For somebody who had such clear indicators, we cannot understand why they would not have seen those risk factors and assigned Mr. Cole to special accommodations at the jail."

Ficano spokeswoman Vanessa Denha-Garmo replied: "Appropriate mental and physical screenings were conducted as they always are when inmates enter the jail. The sheriff's deputies are in charge of placing inmates inside the jail. It is unfortunate that politics are playing a part of such a tragic case."