Wayne County Jail missed multiple red flags before inmate’s brutal death

Jail warned of inmate’s psych history, housed him with man he’s accused of killing

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Wayne County Jail employees failed to heed multiple red flags involving an inmate now accused of killing his cellmate, including a warning that he suffered from mental illness and may harm others.

Claude Lewis III is accused of brutally murdering his cellmate, Thomas Carr, on July 13th

But on July 12, the jail was in possession of Lewis’s criminal history, including warnings about his psychiatric history found in the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) inputted by Washtenaw County court officials.

RELATED: Inmate beaten to death inside Wayne County Jail only hours after he got there

It cautioned that Lewis “may harm self or others,” was “unable to attend to basic needs or understand the need for treatment” and had been involuntarily committed a year prior.

The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the revelations, citing a pending investigation.

It marks the latest sign that the jail failed to heed warnings in the lead up to the brutal attack that deputies told 7 Action News was one of the most gruesome crime scenes they’ve seen.

Lewis was arrested on July 10th after his girlfriend called Romulus police, accusing Lewis of domestic violence. Police records indicate that Lewis had been accused of assaulting the woman previously, and court records show he had a prior conviction for assault.

‘I’m labeled as schizophrenic’

As 7 Action News first reported in July, Lewis was not hiding his mental illness from law enforcement.

In the early hours of July 10, following his girlfriend’s calls to police, Lewis called 911 himself and told a dispatcher: “I am labeled as schizophrenic, bipolar, so the reason why I’m calling is so she can’t get me locked up in jail. I’d rather just go to the psych ward and get assistance.”

But Lewis never made it to a psychiatric hospital.

Instead, he went to the Wayne County Jail where he would be paired with Carr, who was brought to the jail for the charge of operating while impaired.

Hours later, sources say, Lewis attacked Carr for between 30 minutes and two hours.

“No person housed on a misdemeanor case in Wayne County or otherwise should ever face being beaten and tortured and killed in a cell,” said attorney Vince Colella, who has since been retained by Carr’s family.

Due to understaffing throughout the county jails, there was only one deputy assigned to guard the north side of the 11th floor where Lewis and Carr were housed.

But that deputy was missing in action.

Sources confirm he failed to do his hourly rounds, not setting foot on Lewis and Carr’s ward for nearly two hours while the attack took place. That deputy was recently suspended, 7 Action News has learned, and has since resigned.

In Wayne County and every jail, inmates aren’t supposed to be paired together by chance, but by a careful review of their criminal history, physical and mental health history, age and other factors. Steps are supposed to be taken to make sure inmates will be safe together.

But multiple experts in jail inmate classification say that Lewis and Carr’s pairing should have raised alarm bells.

In addition to being accused of domestic violence, Lewis had previously been convicted of assault, according to charging documents.

Records also show he had a personal protection order taken out against him by his girlfriend.

At 28-years-old and 6 foot 5 inches, Lewis was also in much better shape than the 53-year-old Carr, whose family said he had been recently released from a hospital.

(Carr) was put in with a younger man that had a violent history,” said Virginia Adkins, said his sister.

Red flags in black and white

Sheriff’s officials declined to comment on why the jail paired Lewis with Carr in spite of a a LEIN entry that made note of Lewis’s history of involuntary psychiatric commitments.

The entry listed the case number of Lewis’s probate file in Washtenaw County Court.

The file is public and was reviewed by 7 Action News, showing repeated diagnoses of schizophrenia, that Lewis believed family members were “poisoning his food,” that he was deemed a danger to himself and others and was court ordered for treatment “after threatening to kill his girlfriend and her family.”

Records show Lewis spent time in psychiatric hospitals in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Even Lewis’s family says they tried to warn jail officials. Rita Soka is Lewis’s attorney, and says her client’s mother called the jail on July 12, a full day before the attack took place.

“She immediately called the Wayne County jail before he was transported there and notified them about his mental illness and the need of daily medications,” Soka said.

She says her call was transferred to the nurse’s station, but no one answered. Soka says Lewis’s mother left a voicemail that, nearly a month later, hasn’t been returned.

The next day, Carr was beaten in his cell. He died after his family took him off life support.

“It’s not the fault of one person,” Soka said of the missed opportunities. “It’s the fault of multiple people.”

7 Action News shared the information about with Tom Watkins, a longtime mental health advocate and the former CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.

“They should have known he had this history,” Watkins said. “And if they did know it, they didn’t take the proper precautions.”

Citing pending criminal and internal investigations, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on WXYZ’s reporting, but said in part: “Sheriff Raphael Washington continues to balance jail security, the safety of our officers, as well as our inmates. Upon completion of these investigations, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office will take the necessary actions to address any concerns regarding how its policies and procedures were implemented.”

A joint task force of Detroit and Michigan State Police is currently investigating Carr’s homicide, while Wayne County continues an internal affairs investigation into the attack.

“If they would have done their job, maybe an individual would be alive today and a person wouldn’t be looking at murder charges,” Watkins said. “Two lives, if not many more…are ruined forever.”

WBA – Oakland January member of the month

WBA – Oakland January member of the month

Rita Soka is a Juris Doctor candidate at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. Ms. Soka graduated from Wayne State University, summa cum laude, in 2009, with her Bachelor of Medical Science majoring in Clinical Laboratory Science. While attending Wayne State, Ms. Soka interned for Henry Ford Hospital’s Pathology Department.

After practicing health care for ten years in the Metro Detroit area, Ms. Soka pursued her legal education at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. Ms. Soka began at UDM Law School in 2019 and is expected to graduate in May 2022. During law school, Ms. Soka realized many academic accomplishments, including receiving the Dean’s Fellowship Scholarship for Excellence. Ms. Soka has also made the Dean’s list during multiple semesters and earned the State Bar of Michigan, Health Care Law Section 2021 Award. Additionally, Ms. Soka serves as a teaching assistant for UDM’s Evidence course and is a Senior Member and Associate Board member of UDM’s Moot Court organization. Currently, Ms. Soka sits in the top 10% of her class.

During her first year of law school, Ms. Soka interned for Judge Nancy Edmunds in the United States District Court-Eastern District of Michigan. Ms. Soka serves as a student attorney at the Federal Pro Se Clinic where she assists indigent pro se litigants in matters sitting in the United States District Court-Eastern District of Michigan. Currently, Ms. Soka is an associate law clerk at Secrest Wardle and will continue working there upon successfully passing the Michigan Bar Exam.

Law student awarded scholarship from State Bar Health Care Law Section

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law student Rita Soka received a scholarship from the State Bar of Michigan Health Care Law Section (HCLS). Each year, the HCLS awards one student from Detroit Mercy Law a scholarship recognizing their achievements in health care law. 

“My long-standing interest in health care is why I pursued an undergraduate degree in health science,” explained Soka. “Health care law extends this interest and allows me to exercise my intellectual reasoning and analytical skills.”

Soka worked for ten years as a clinical lab scientist in the largest hospitals in Metro Detroit. A native of Baghdad, Iraq, she learned the English language in college while raising her three children.

At Detroit Mercy Law, Soka is involved with the Women’s Law Caucus and the Moot Court Board of Advocates. She is a Dean’s Fellow and this fall will be a research assistant for a professor.

Soka worked as an associate law clerk at Secrest Wardle, a civil defense firm, this past summer. “At Secrest Wardle, I am dedicated to strengthening my litigation and advocacy skills to help solve my future clients’ issues, including assisting physicians in medical malpractice suits.”

Onward and upward: Iraq native overcomes hurdles along path to her legal career

As a young girl growing up in Iraq, Rita Samir Soka never imagined that one day she’d leave her family in Baghdad to move to the United States where she would raise a family and earn two college degrees before entering law school as a Detroit Mercy Law Dean’s Fellow.

But before any of that could happen, Soka, who was 18 when she moved to America, and her fiancé, an American of Iraqi descent, learned that if the couple followed their original plan for Soka to emigrate to the U.S., where she planned to live with members of her family, before her wedding, she’d have to wait for more than a year to obtain a visa.

To complicate matters even further, the Iraqi government barred its citizens from marrying an American on Iraqi soil. Her future husband, Sarmed Soka, a naturalized citizen, had lived in the U.S. since he was an infant.

“We realized we’d have to get married in a different country. That led us to Jordan where we had a church wedding. Soon after, we worked with an immigration lawyer who helped me get the proper documentation to move here,” Soka said.

It didn’t take long for Soka to decide she wanted to further her education. She knew that meant achieving proficiency in English.

“The only English I knew was from grammar school. Because I had learned to read right to left, it was difficult for me,” Soka said. “Then I thought, ‘How will I be able to guide my children through school if I’m not educated?’ I was here for less than a year when my father-in-law drove me to Oakland Community College to take a placement test in English and math.”

Though Soka didn’t score high enough in English on her first attempt, she was undaunted. Less than a year after she moved to America, she took a job as a cashier to help her improve her English.
When the store needed a pharmacy technician she applied for and got the job.

“I always wanted to be a pharmacist, so I said, ‘Why don’t I apply for the job and maybe go to pharmacy school later?’ Soka recalled. “I was accepted and worked there for two years. I am convinced that working helped me improve my speaking, reading and writing skills.”

Armed with the confidence she gained from working, Soka, who by now was the mother of two toddlers, retook the placement test at OCC, doubled her initial score, and enrolled in OCC’s pharmacy-focused classes.

From there, Soka was unstoppable.

“I concentrated on pharmacy, with the intent to enroll in pharmacy school after I earned my associate’s degree. I graduated from OCC with honors. My whole family was at the awards ceremony. By the time I finished my associate’s degree, I’d had a third child, a boy,” Soka said with a laugh, adding, “I told myself, ‘I am going to be something one day.’”

Since Soka had accumulated two years of credits that would transfer to Wayne State’s clinical laboratory science program, she decided to forego pharmacy school and complete her bachelor’s degree in two years.

“I found I really enjoyed learning about science and recent developments in the field. I thought about going to medical school because I liked the idea of using my education to help people solve their issues,” Soka said. “ To be a person who could affect people’s lives using what I learned was very satisfying for me.”

Soka easily found work in her field after her 2009 graduation from Wayne State. Still, the idea of further advancing her education was never far from her mind.

“Ever since I graduated from Wayne I’d hoped to go back to school. By that point I realized medical school was not going to be an option for me because I would be away from my family for too long,” Soka said. “Yet, I still wanted to be a member of a profession where I could directly impact other people’s lives, something that was more challenging than what I was doing.”

A conversation with her younger daughter gave Soka the idea to look into law school, where, upon bar admission, she would have the opportunity to combine her science background with a legal education.

“My daughter, Sabrina, who also wants to be an attorney, did a high school research paper on how to become a lawyer. She said, ‘Mom, you’re always winning arguments, like the time you proved to the ordinance committee that a new tree had to be 25 feet away from a fire hydrant. You were using the law to fight, and you won.”

Soka looked into it and decided to fulfill the necessary requirements to attend law school. By the time she’d completed them, she’d been offered scholarships to two area law schools, including acceptance as a Dean’s Fellow at Detroit Mercy Law.

“The environment was welcoming and friendly. The chance to have one on one relationships with my professors was very important to me. And they had trust and confidence in me that I was going to do well. It felt good to know they believed in me.”

Jennifer Rumschlag, associate dean, Enrollment Management & Communications at Detroit Mercy Law, said Soka’s selection as a Dean’s Fellow was based on character, pointing to her work ethic and academic achievement.

“Rita was chosen based on her excellence prior to law school.  We believe she is an excellent addition to the Detroit Mercy Law community and the legal community,” Rumschlag said. “Fellowships are our most prestigious admissions scholarships.  They are awarded to incoming students who have demonstrated excellence prior to law school through academics, leadership, professionalism, and service. Fellows receive full-tuition scholarship support, alumni mentors, and leadership, networking, and service opportunities throughout law school.”

Soka’s husband, two daughters and a son, are full of pride for her, even posting her achievements on social media.

“My family is very proud and excited for me. My daughters put it all over social media,” said Soka, a first year law student. “People ask me why I decided to go to law school and I tell them, ‘The more l learned about the legal profession, the more I felt like it was where I belonged.’ The challenge the law offers is incredible. This is what I was looking for.”