Monday, June 19, 2006


Mentally Ill Man's Death in Jail has a history

From the Indpls Star

June 19, 2006

Homeless man saddled by addiction spurned help

By Gavin Lesnick
June 19, 2006

The 54-year-old who died after attack in jail represents the problems faced by those living on the streets, Rep. Carson says.

Cellblock 4C in the Marion County Jail has a long, slender corridor where inmates can talk, play board games or watch television.

But earlier this month, the space became a crime scene when tempers flared and an inmate in a wheelchair was attacked.

James Reese Barr, 54, died two days later of injuries from the assault. A cellmate, James Caldwell, 28, has been charged with murder.

Barr's death brought an end to a life that once was filled with promise but instead ended tragically after more than three decades of crime and abuse.

The biggest thing Barr, homeless and penniless, left behind was an extensive record of drug problems, alcohol arrests and other offenses.

But some of the people who knew him, including U.S. Rep. Julia Carson, say his death was a tragedy and still don't understand why he shunned so many offers of help.
"He wasn't a dumb person," said Carson, an Indianapolis Democrat. "He was articulate, he spoke well, and he had a good mind. He was just purely overwhelmed by alcohol."

Indianapolis resident Byron Davenport, 50, met Barr for the first time when they played baseball and basketball together in youth leagues at Douglass Park. By the time the two attended Tech High School in the late 1960s, Davenport said, Barr was a likable, social person and a great athlete.

But Barr got involved with drugs and alcohol and joined a gang while at Tech, and before long, the affable boy Davenport had grown up with was not the same person, he said.

"The James Barr we knew then was totally different -- totally different -- than what we see today," Davenport said. "The picture I see on the news is a rough-looking picture. And Barr wasn't like that. Not coming up, he wasn't."

That transformation likely was brought on by Barr's descent into addiction problems. In the next 30 years after high school, he was arrested numerous times for drunkenness, conversion and theft. In 1983, he was charged nine times with public intoxication or drunkenness. In 1997, he had 23 public-intoxication arrests. With no known relatives -- his mother had died years earlier -- Barr was living on the street or in jail and survived by begging for change, Davenport said.

Carter Wolf, executive director of Horizon House, an Indianapolis organization that works to end homelessness, said his group helped nearly 4,700 people last year. Fewer than half of those dealt with addiction, but in many cases that did, the addiction overtook everything else, he said.

"It's common for that to become your life. It becomes the most important part of your day," he said.

Carson recognized Barr's problems and sought to help him when she was Center Township trustee in 1994. Carson told Barr she would work to get him an $1,800 prosthetic leg to help him get out of his wheelchair and turn his life around.
By chance, Davenport was working for Carson, and he volunteered to become Barr's case manager and help him get the leg through Medicaid. It was a yearlong process of doctor's appointments and fitting sessions, but by 1995, Davenport remembers, he saw Barr walk on two feet for the first time in years. Barr had lost his leg in 1981, and Davenport said he understood that Barr had been shot and had to have it amputated.

"I dropped him off on 22nd and College, and he had the leg on, and I kept hugging him and saying, 'Barr, we got it. We made it,' " Davenport said. "He was so happy."
But it didn't last. A week later, Davenport got a call informing him that Barr's leg had been thrown in the trash bin of a Downtown Indianapolis hotel.

Carson said she was able to look past Barr's troubles to try to help him, but it was very disappointing to see the work fail.

"I wanted him to be able to walk on his own without a wheelchair," she said. "I was hoping that that would be an asset in his life that would make him want to do better. I thought that would give him some momentum, but it turned out he didn't want any momentum."

Wolf said Barr might have suffered from a lack of effective rehabilitation options. He said that though a number of programs in the city help people stop drinking immediately, people like Barr might not be capable of such abrupt change.
Wolf noted that while some cities have "wet" shelters where police can take people to deal specifically with addiction problems, in Indianapolis, Barr was taken to jail for each offense.

"I can't speak for (Barr), but we don't have many options," he said. "There are a few, but we don't have a big variety."

Barr was arrested one last time just before 1 a.m. May 12. He had been causing trouble at the Rural Inn Tavern, and police took him to the Marion County Jail on battery and trespassing charges.

In jail, Davenport's and Barr's lives intertwined once more. Davenport is a correctional officer there and heard the call for medical assistance for Barr over his radio the night of the attack.

He learned later that Barr's wheelchair had played a part in the assault. According to the police report, Barr rolled over his attacker's foot right before the attack occurred. That, Davenport said, will always trouble him.

"I just hate the fact that the chair had anything to do with his death, because the chair didn't have to be there at all," Davenport said. "I don't know if he had something mean in his heart or something had happened to him, but I don't know why he rejected all the help people offered to him."

Carson learned of Barr's death last week in Washington. She said it saddens her and she is angry at Caldwell, the inmate charged in the attack on Barr. She said she wishes her efforts on Barr's behalf could have helped steer him toward a different life -- one in which he would not have been in jail that afternoon in the first place.

Still, she said, he stands as an example of a problem that persists.
"I think he represented a cadre of people out on the street that are so weather-beaten they resort to a life of crime," Carson said. "Nobody would hire him. He drank a lot. He cussed a lot. He roamed around the streets in that wheelchair. He represents the homeless of our county."

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Mentally Ill Inmate Dies

June 9, 2006

Disabled jail inmate dies after attack in cellblock
June 9, 2006

A disabled inmate died Thursday of injuries suffered in an attack at the Marion County Jail on Tuesday.
James Barr, 54, who used a wheelchair, was pronounced dead at 4:10 p.m. Thursday at Wishard Memorial Hospital, where he was taken after the attack in critical condition.
Another inmate, James Caldwell, 28, reportedly admitted to the attack when he was interviewed by Marion County sheriff's investigators.
A coroner's report said Barr was pulled from his wheelchair and his head was slammed on the floor of a mental health cellblock. Investigators said Caldwell attacked Barr after Barr rolled over Caldwell's foot.
Sheriff's deputies were planning to submit a report on the death to the Marion County prosecutor, who will decide whether Caldwell should face charges in Barr's death.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Mental Patient Beat in Jail

Indianapolis Star
June 7, 2006

Disabled inmate near death after beating in jail

By Vic Ryckaert

A wheelchair-bound inmate was in critical condition this morning after another inmate beat him Tuesday in the Marion County Jail.

James Barr, 54, underwent brain surgery at Wishard Hospital. Doctors do not expect him to survive, Capt. Phil Burton said.

James Caldwell, 28, admitted to beating Barr, police said. Barr, according to records, had been antagonizing Caldwell.

"I had enough when he rolled over my foot," Caldwell told corrections officers. "I beat the (expletive) out of him."

Barr, who has one leg and uses a wheelchair, had been in jail on misdemeanor charges of battery and trespassing. Caldwell was being held on an attempted murder charge.

Caldwell could be charged with murder if Barr dies, Burton said.

Burton said corrections officers responded quickly and no other inmates tried to break up the fight.

Call Star reporter Vic Ryckaert at (317) 444-2761.

Copyright 2006 All rights reserved

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?