A Lansdowne man incarcerated at Delaware County’s jail died by suicide Christmas morning, county officials said Monday.
Austin Peter Mulhern, 45, was found hanged in his cell at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility just before 1 a.m. Wednesday, according to a report prepared by the county medical examiner. Investigators said they believe he had killed himself earlier that evening with a bed sheet fastened to the frame of the bunk bed in his cell.
His father declined to comment when reached at his home Monday.
Mulhern’s death came just hours before five female inmates were rushed to local hospitals after overdosing on heroin sneaked into the jail during Christmas visitation hours.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Mulhern, a security officer at Delaware County Community College, was incarcerated. He pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in August but was accepted into an intermediate punishment program that only called for 20 days of jail time, according to court records.
One of Mulhern’s former coworkers at the college, Gail Myrick, wrote on the website of the Chadwick & McKinney Funeral Home that working with him had been “a pleasure.”
“You are free now with no more worries and no more pain,” Myrick wrote. “With Deepest Sympathy!”
The county-owned jail in Thornton is operated by GEO Group, an international private-prisons conglomerate.
In a statement Monday, a GEO spokesperson said that there had been “no indication of stress or suicide” in Mulhern’s phone calls or other communication.
“This is a tragic incident that we take very seriously. We train our staff to identify any signs where an inmate might harm themselves, and we take all necessary measures to ensure he or she has access to a medical professional for any required treatment,” the statement said.
“The facility we operate on behalf of Delaware County is not immune to the significant increase in suicides occurring across Pennsylvania’s county jails, but we are taking all measures to protect the safety and security of inmates and provide the highest-quality medical care to those who might need it and to those who seek it.”
Robert DiOrio, the solicitor for the county’s newly formed Jail Oversight Board, said that little additional information was available on the incident and that it was under investigation by both GEO and county detectives working for the District Attorney’s Office.
Guards at the prison, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that it had been short-staffed around the holidays, and that GEO had been offering overtime to cover open shifts. A GEO spokesman said late Monday that was inaccurate, and that the jail was fully staffed on Christmas.
George W. Hill has a history of suicides, most recently on July 31, when a prisoner found his cellmate unresponsive, according to a GEO spokesperson who declined to release the inmate’s name or cause of death.
Between 2002 and 2008, 12 inmates died at the facility, including from suicide, with seven in 2005 alone. In 2017, the family of one woman was awarded $7 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit after her suicide there.
GEO notes on its website that the average number of inmate deaths at George W. Hill between 2013 and 2017 was 1.08, which is lower than the 1.31 recorded in the same time period at other county jails across Pennsylvania, most of which are county-operated.