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Cherokee man dies in Swain jail

Joseph William Lomas, 25, of Cherokee, died while being detained at the Swain County Detention Center on Aug. 28. 

According to the sheriff’s department, Lomas was found unresponsive in a holding cell around 3:50 a.m. Aug. 28. 

“The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations was immediately notified and they were on scene around 4:30 a.m. for the investigation, which is normal for a death in a jail,” the sheriff stated on the agency’s Facebook page. “The District Attorney’s Office and the Jail Inspectors Office were also notified. The family was notified earlier this morning. The body has been sent for an autopsy and agents are there now to observe. This inmate was in a cell by himself with no-one else in with him.”

Lomas was taken into custody Aug. 24 after being arrested for a probation violation for a DWI. 

Sheriff Curtis Cochran told The Smoky Mountain Times that Lomas was kept in a holding cell so he could be treated by a nurse for what appeared to be alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Detention officers are required by law to make rounds to check on inmates twice an hour or more frequently if they are suffering from a mental health crisis or are under the influence of drugs. Cochran told SMT that Lomas was sitting on a bench in the holding cell during the last rounds, which was done about 24 minutes before he was found unconscious. 

According to Lomas’ obituary, he is survived by his mother, three children and three step-children in addition to other close family in Cherokee. A funeral was held on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

“Prayers for Joe’s family and his babies, this is a horribly sad situation and I pray this is a thorough investigation and not one sided, Joe was a very young, something happened that was very wrong,” said Faye McCoy on Facebook. “I have heard horror stories about that jail and some that was most disturbing from an ex DO there, how inmates are treated especially natives with medical issues, I pray this family gets the answers they deserve.”

The Smoky Mountain News requested a copy of the autopsy report, but had not received it by press time Tuesday. 

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