Meriden woman dies eight days after jail cell hanging incident

Meriden woman dies eight days after jail cell hanging incident


MERIDEN — An internal investigation is underway after police say a city woman attempted to hang herself in a holding cell and died eight days later due to her injuries.

Erica Moreno, 29, of Meriden was arrested just before midnight on Jan. 18 and charged with breach of peace, interfering with an officer and criminal impersonation. She also had two outstanding arrest warrants for violation of probation.

While in police custody, Moreno used “an article of her own clothing and attempted to hang herself,” police spokesman Sgt. Darrin McKay wrote in a statement released Thursday morning. She had been in lockup for about two hours, McKay added.

Moreno was found by the police desk sergeant on duty around 3:20 a.m. Police cut her free from the article of clothing, performed CPR and used an automated external defibrillator, McKay said. Medical personnel from Hunter’s Ambulance and the fire department responded.

The fire department was notified at 3:37 a.m., according to a report filed with the fire marshal’s office. Three firefighters and a fire lieutenant from the Pratt Street firehouse arrived on scene three minutes later, followed by a Hunter’s crew. Two of the firefighters went with Hunter’s personnel and Moreno to MidState Medical Center and were picked up at 4:12 a.m.

Moreno was in critical condition and on life support after being taken to the hospital. She died on Tuesday, eight days after the incident, according to her death certificate filed with the city clerk’s office. In his statement Thursday morning, McKay said Moreno died but didn’t say when. Her official cause of death was listed as “complications of hanging,” according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The police department’s detective division is investigating the incident, McKay said.

“There is also an ongoing administrative review being conducted simultaneously; therefore, I will be unable to discuss the details of this matter any further until both investigations have been completed,” McKay wrote in another statement late Thursday morning.

Details of Moreno’s death Tuesday weren’t released by police until Thursday morning, just over an hour after the Record-Journal inquired about the incident.

Mayor Kevin Scarpati and City Councilor Larue Graham, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, both said they were aware of the incident prior to Thursday.

“Police have begun an investigation, though I’m not sure where they are in the process,” Scarpati said. “We do know it has been underway.”

Scarpati called the incident a “tragedy.”

“My heart goes out to the family and friends,” he said.

Details weren’t released prior to Thursday because Moreno’s health status wasn’t clear, Graham said. It would have been irresponsible to release information to the public any earlier, he said.

Court records show that around 1:39 a.m., Moreno signed a promise to appear in court while in custody. The promise to appear was for the charges filed against Moreno the night of Jan. 18. But Moreno wasn’t released at the time because she was unable to post $30,000 bond for two violation of probation warrants, McKay said. The warrants were issued after two separate incidents in August, according to court records.

Nearly two hours after Moreno signed the promise to appear, she was found in her cell. Moreno is listed as homeless and has two children, according to court records. An arrest report notes that she was taken into custody Jan. 18 around 11:36 p.m. at 61 Randolph Ave., a multi-family house. Further details of her arrest weren’t released by police, and weren’t available in court documents.

Police responded to the Randolph Avenue home around 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 18 for a disturbance, according to the police department’s website, Maria Zavaglia, who lives on the second-floor of 61 Randolph Ave., said Thursday that Moreno had been staying there for a short time.

“She was a really great person who had a beautiful heart,” Zavaglia said. “I keep visualizing her. I have her blanket that she slept with here, and the last clothes she wore.”

On the night Moreno was arrested, she had been drinking with a few friends at the apartment. She went outside to speak to a friend, but was locked out and began knocking loudly on the front door, Zavaglia said. This prompted a neighbor to contact police. When police arrived, Moreno was in a back room. Officers only wanted to know the names of those inside the apartment, Zavaglia said, but Moreno came out from the back room and began speaking to officers. She admitted to having two pending warrants and told officers to arrest her, according to Zavaglia.

“Her last words to me were ‘I love you guys,’” she said. “She told me if something ever happens, I will always love you.”

Zavaglia said Moreno knew she was facing jail time for violating probation. Friends are looking to organize a vigil in Moreno’s memory. Moreno’s two young children are living with another family member, according to Zavaglia.

In October, Moreno pleaded guilty to violation of a protective order. She was sentenced to three months in prison and two years of probation. As a condition of probation, Moreno was ordered to undergo a substance abuse evaluation and treatment, as well as psychological treatment, according to her probation violation warrant. Moreno was released from prison on Nov. 24. Her probation officer scheduled treatment to begin at Rushford Center on Dec. 1. She never reported to Rushford Center for treatment as scheduled, the warrant states. For a time, Moreno couldn’t be located by her probation officer until she reported to the adult probation office on Dec. 15, at which time she admitted to using drugs, the warrant continues.

Scarpati said the police investigation must be allowed to take its course, noting that the city may have to deal with “potential pending litigation.”

First and foremost, “it’s important to remember the person she was and keep her family in our thoughts and prayers,” he said. 203-317-2224 Twitter: @andyragz

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