Inmate death investigation continues

Thirty-six-year-old Charles Ellison – the inmate who died Friday at Tygart Valley Regional Jail – wasn’t dead when TVRJ Administrator Scott Villers was first notified of a medical emergency at the facility.

Villers first learned something was terribly amiss Friday morning when he received an urgent phone call from a jail supervisor at about 5 a.m., he said.

“He (Ellison) wasn’t actually dead when I first found out there was a medical emergency,” Villers told The Inter-Mountain Wednesday during an interview at the jail. “Our medical department here attempted to administer life-saving techniques, and the (Randolph County) EMS attempted to give life-saving techniques until they came to the conclusion that it was pointless.”

“The state police were already here, and the coroner was notified,” Villers added.

Villers wouldn’t comment on the cause of death, but did reveal that Ellison’s cell mate – whose name he would not disclose – was transferred to one of the two segregation units at the facility.

Inmates are moved into segregation units when they’ve violated laws laid out in the Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority’s “Handbook of Inmate Rules and Procedures.” Once in segregation, inmates are locked in a cell 23 out of 24 hours of the day, and their TV-viewing privileges are revoked.

Despite Friday’s tragic events, Villers maintains that inmate deaths are relatively rare in the regional jail system, noting that in his 19 years of experience working at various regional jails, Ellison’s death is only the third he’s dealt with. The other two, he said, were suicides.

“I think this is an isolated incident,” Villers said. The last death at the TVRJ occurred on Oct. 31, 2010, he added.

Ellison had been lodged in TVRJ since October 2011 on burglary, forgery and obstruction charges, as well as charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

In August 2011, Ellison, of Slatyfork, was named in a seven-count indictment handed down by a grand jury in Pocahontas County. The indictment charged him with two counts of burglary, three counts of grand larceny, one count of conspiracy and one count of breaking and entering.

However, according to an Oct. 26, 2012 court order provided by the Pocahontas County Circuit Clerk’s Office, three of those charges were dismissed “due to the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

An official with the Pocahontas County Circuit Clerk’s Office told The Inter-Mountain that Ellison’s trial had been pushed back from an earlier date to April 16, 2013.

Little information was revealed this week by the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority’s central office in Charleston and the West Virginia State Police regarding what may have happened in the hours leading up to Ellison’s death.

Ashley Bennett, a criminal justice specialist with the regional jail authority’s central office in Charleston, said Tuesday that she was unable to comment on the incident or cause of death.

“Because of the investigation, I can’t comment,” Bennett said. “In general, when something happens in the jail, we notify the state police and they take it from there.”

On Wednesday, the investigating officer in the case, Trooper C.S. Johnston with the Elkins detachment of the WVSP, said that the state medical examiner’s officer had completed an autopsy on Ellison’s body, the results of which won’t be released publicly for several weeks.

Johnston wouldn’t say why Ellison’s death was deemed suspicious or answer any questions about what may have happened at the jail.

“I’m not going to get into that right now. It’s pending at the moment,” the officer told The Inter-Mountain via telephone Wednesday. “It’s all under investigation.”

Johnston said that, in general, a death is labeled suspicious if puzzle pieces don’t fall easily into place.

“Just in general, if you look at something and it seems complex, you have to take some time and figure it all out,” Johnston said.

When asked if Ellison’s cell mate was a suspect in the case, or if he’d identified any suspects in the case, Johnston declined to comment.

Contact Katie Kuba by email at