St. Bernard sheriff investigating inmate’s death

St. Bernard Parish Sheriff James Pohlmann said Wednesday that he is investigating the circumstances that led to the death of a 19-year-old woman at the parish jail a day earlier.

Nimali Henry had been jailed at St. Bernard Parish Prison for almost two weeks after a domestic dispute, according to records from the Sheriff’s Office.

Henry died Tuesday morning after she was found unresponsive on the floor of her cell at about 8 a.m., not long after a shift change among jail personnel, the sheriff said.

Officials tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead a short time later.

In a meeting with reporters Wednesday, Pohlmann revealed few details about what happened to Henry.

“It’s a preliminary investigation at this point,” he said. “We’re currently gathering facts and conducting interviews. We’ll take a look at everything, from when she arrived at our facility up until her death.”

Pohlmann said he was unsure when a staff member last passed by Henry’s cell before she was found unresponsive. “I don’t want to speculate on this particular case until we can complete our investigation,” he said.

He said foul play is not suspected in the death.

Friends said Wednesday that Henry had a heart condition requiring medication, a claim that Pohlmann seemed to allude to but did not offer specifics about. He said it is difficult for jail staff to dispense medication to new inmates because of a strict verification process.

“Depending on if the medication is prescribed, it’s a whole process to figure all of that out,” he said. “You can’t just assume that everybody who shows up and says, ‘This is somebody’s medication,’ they just go up there and arbitrarily give them that medication.”

He said an autopsy was conducted Wednesday but he was unaware of its preliminary findings. Toxicology test results could take up to eight weeks, he said.

“I can certainly understand why they would be upset. I can tell you, I’m upset, you know. It’s my responsibility for the care and custody of everybody over there, and when something like this happens, we have to figure out why it happened,” he said.

The jail’s average inmate population is about 260, he said. Henry’s death was the first in the facility since April 2012, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Henry was arrested March 21 following reports of a disturbance with the father of her 4-month-old daughter at a home in the 1800 block of Suzi Drive. She was booked with disturbing the peace, simple battery and unauthorized entry, records show.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to the reported disturbance and determined through interviews that Henry had arrived at the house uninvited and started demanding that she be allowed to see her daughter, according to an incident report. Her child’s father, Nicholas Conners, 18, was visiting there with a woman, Chelsea Lefebvre, 18, who lived at the residence.

Conners told Henry that it wasn’t a good time to see the girl, and when Lefebvre tried to intervene, the two women got into a shoving match, the report said. Conners eventually separated the two.

Henry’s bail was set at $25,000, the Sheriff’s Office said. Asked whether that seemed high for the charges she faced, Pohlmann said no. “The charge of unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling is a felony. I don’t know if that’s way out of the ordinary,” he added.

Bernadette Achee, of Chalmette, said she picked up Henry from a hospital March 21 and drove her to the Suzi Drive home to get her child. Henry lived elsewhere in the parish with a relative, she said.

“I just assumed that (the father) was watching the baby while she was at the hospital, so when we got down there, she knocked on the door and ... I thought they were opening the door to let her in, but they said she just walked in, and the next thing I heard was yelling,” Achee said in an interview.

For years, Henry and Conners had a turbulent relationship, she said.

Achee’s daughter Brianna, 17, attended Chalmette High School with Henry. She said they had been friends for years, recalling that she helped organize a baby shower for her friend in the fall.

Word spread about Henry’s death Tuesday while Brianna Achee and her classmates were on a school field trip, she said. She recalled Henry as having “a beautiful smile.”

“She could make anyone laugh,” she said. “She was just really nice and always fun to be around.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed on April 3, 2014, to correct the gender of Nimali Henry’s 4-month-old daughter, and to correct the spelling of Sheriff James Pohlmann’s last name.