CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – A grieving mother is still searching for answers, more than a year after her son died in the Mecklenburg County Jail.
Barbara Allen’s son, Brenyon Allen, died in July 2018 while sitting in a common room inside the jail. His autopsy lists his cause of death as fentanyl toxicity.
Video from inside the jail obtained by WBTV shows Brenyon Allen sitting on a couch in a common room of the jail before he slumps over and appears to have a seizure.
The video shows he laid slumped on the couch for nearly seven minutes—with two jail staff in the room the entire time—before one of the staff members comes over and kicks his foot.
Eventually, the video shows, staff attempted to resuscitate him, to no avail.
According to a timestamp on the video, it took 14 minutes from the time Allen first collapsed to the time jail staff started CPR.
Now, 18 months later, Barbara Allen wants to know why it took so long for a staff member to respond to her son’s medical distress and how he was able to obtain a lethal quantity of drugs while in jail.
“My son died of a lethal dose of fentanyl poisoning and nobody wants to take the accountability or be liable for it and I totally blame the jail house,” she said.
In the months since her son’s death, Allen said nobody has explained how her son was able to get the drugs in the first place.
Brenyon Allen’s medical records from the jail show he had a known substance abuse problem, including at least two documented uses of cocaine and a mental health diagnosis of drug addition in the 12 months before his death
“How did he get it? How did it get in there?” Allen asked of the drugs that killed her son.
Sheriff Garry McFadden—who was not in office when Allen died but now runs the Mecklenburg County Jail—wouldn’t address specifics of issues he faces keeping drugs out of his jail.
“I don’t know if opioids are in my jail. Opioids is a problem in the United States,” McFadden said, when a reporter asked how big of a problem opioids were in the county’s jail.
But McFadden did address the issue in response to a different question.
“We’re up against great minds—great criminal minds—about how to bring drugs and stuff inside facilities,” McFadden said. “We have to understand that we have people who’s been on drugs for many, many years and they’re arrested and we want to have treatment programs.”
McFadden and his staff would not answer any questions specifically about Brenyon Allen’s death.
Nor would the Sheriff answer a more general question about how much time should pass before a jail staff member is supposed to check on an inmate who’s had a change in behavior.
“I think that we have to understand that people go to sleep, people pass out, people play possum,” McFadden said.
Asked more specifically, McFadden still wouldn’t answer a question about what a staff member at the jail should do if they saw an inmate slumped over in a chair.
“Are they playing possum? Do we know who that person is? Have they done that the whole day? Are they sick? Are they not feeling well? Or they simply just don’t want to go?” McFadden asked.
Without giving a specific answer as to whether seven minutes is too long before checking on an inmate who appears to be incapacitated, McFadden said he expected his staff to be attentive to inmates.
“I expect my staff to be attentive,” McFadden said. “I expect my staff to be professional. I expect my staff to look at people and hopefully recognize somebody is in distress.”
But it’s too late for that to help Barbara Allen, who keeps her son’s ashes in a box in the center of her mantle in her living room. A framed picture of her son sits on top of the box.
“That’s my first born and my only son. And I don’t have him no more. All I have are his ashes. That’s all I have,” she said. “Every morning I wake up, I think about my son, I think about my son all day, that picture, that video will forever be in my mind.”