RACINE — The Racine County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of a 59-year-old woman in the Racine County Jail on Nov. 26.

The Sheriff’s Office said in a news release issued Monday that jail staff responded promptly and that the inmate died from natural causes. However, two inmates who were in the jail at the time dispute that claim, saying it took at least 20 minutes for anyone to respond to the distressed inmate.

Barbara Beachem, 59, of Racine, was sentenced to one year in jail after she pleaded guilty to felony counts of maintaining a drug trafficking place and manufacturing/delivering heroin.

According to two family members as well as another inmate in the jail, Beachem, who had diabetes, was in the medical area of the jail at the time of her death.

At about 11:21 a.m. on Nov. 26, Beachem was found unresponsive in her cell, according to the release issued by the Sheriff’s Office on Monday after The Journal Times inquired about the death.

“Life-saving measures were immediately performed by jail staff. The life-saving measures were unsuccessful and Beachem was pronounced deceased following the prompt arrival of Racine Fire and Rescue staff,” according to the release.

“Beachem interacted with jail staff and was observed walking in the dayroom just 38 minutes prior to rescue being called. During the interaction, she appeared normal, did not appear to be in distress, and did not make any health complaints,” the release stated.

Beachem’s sister, Edna Anderson, said she was informed by the county medical examiner that Beachem died due to blocked arteries, although Anderson said she has heard conflicting stories.

According to state law, an autopsy is required on any individual who dies while in a correctional facility. The Racine County medical examiner could not be reached Monday for a comment on the cause of death, but the release from the Sheriff’s Office stated that the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office is conducting the autopsy and that preliminary reports state that Beachem appears to have died of natural causes.

Conflicting stories

Two inmates in the jail at the time of Beachem’s death claim that Beachem was suffering from medical distress on Nov. 26. They agree that she fell to the floor and it took at least 20 minutes for jail staff to respond to calls for help on her behalf, but there are some inconsistencies in the stories.

Anderson’s granddaughter, Daquisha Anderson, 19, was an inmate at the jail at the time of Beachem’s death due to a probation violation. Daquisha said that she could see a video feed of Beachem’s pod by looking outside the pod that she was in.

Daquisha said she saw Beachem press the emergency button asking for help and saw her fall to the floor afterward. After that, Daquisha said, others pushed the emergency button. She said that it took an hour for jail staff to respond.

Tierra Lee, 27, an inmate at the jail who contacted The Journal Times via telephone on Sunday, said that Beachem was in a wheelchair on Nov. 26 and couldn’t easily get to the button herself. Lee said that other inmates in the pod pushed the emergency button on Beachem’s behalf as they saw she was in medical distress. Lee said that Beachem slid out of her wheelchair onto the floor.

She estimated that it was about 20 minutes before jail staff responded.

Health issues

Lee, who is in jail for felony charges of child abuse and neglecting a child, said she was in the medical pod with Beachem from the beginning of October until approximately mid-November, when she was moved to the next pod over.

“She had been very sick,” Lee said.

Lee claimed that Beachem had a hard time eating and Lee would attempt to feed her like a baby. She said that Beachem was put on a liquid diet two days before her death. Lee said that Beachem lost a significant amount of weight during the time they were in the pod together, but no one seemed to pay attention or care. According to Lee, Beachem complained to jail staff about leg pain and swelling but was told to fill out paperwork requesting medical care instead of receiving it immediately. Lee said it usually takes four or five days for a response to a request.

“I feel like her death was caused by medical negligence,” Lee said.

Lee said it was clear that Beachem was sick and needed medical attention, but she didn’t get it.

“They were not paying attention to her health problems,” Lee said.

Lee said that other inmates also filled out slips requesting medical help for Beachem.

Anderson wondered why doctors didn’t get to her sister sooner, especially when the other inmates were also asking for help for Beachem.

Anderson said she understands there are a lot of people in the jail and that sometimes people act like they’re sick to get out of their cells.

“My sister wasn’t faking,” she said. “They knew she had complications.”

Sheriff’s response

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling defended his staff’s response time Monday and said in a statement, “I am grateful for the quick response and heartfelt efforts my staff displayed as they raced to her aid and rendered life-saving measures. Despite their best efforts, Ms. Beachem passed. Our deepest sympathies go out to her family and friends at this very difficult time.”

The Racine County Jail has not had an inmate death in the jail in more than five years, according to the release from the Sheriff’s Office.

A 2014 state law requires outside investigation into officer-involved deaths, although it doesn’t specifically include inmate deaths at county jails.

Capt. Robert Hallisy of the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department said his department has asked Racine and Walworth counties to investigate deaths in its jails “as best practice.”

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Reporter

Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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