Wanted: Dead or Alive
The three unmarked cars eased to a stop in front of the Frasiers' Littleton residence around dinnertime on February 27, and five men in plainclothes got out. "They said they were here for my brother, Jamie," recalls Robert Frasier, who answered the door. "They said they were going to arrest him for DUI.
"When I told them that Jamie was dead," Robert continues, "they looked at me like, 'Sorry, no way.' So they took out their badges to show me that they were from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department.
"I said, 'That's great. He's still dead.'"
Then Robert told them, "If you don't believe me, call Pat Sullivan." Sullivan is Arapahoe County's sheriff, the deputies' boss.
The officers returned to their cars and milled about, getting in and out of the vehicles. Finally, after just over an hour had passed, they drove away from the Frasiers' house.
"Great communication," says Bill Frasier, father of Jamie and Robert. He is angry because Robert was telling the truth: Jamie hanged himself two months ago, on Martin Luther King Day. Bill Frasier also figures the deputies should have known about his son's suicide, because it happened in the Arapahoe County Jail.
Except for that fact, it's not really surprising the deputies didn't believe 36-year-old Jamie was dead. "He was no angel," says Amy, his sister. "He was always going through one program after another. Like a fish on dry land."
"He'd had his problems with the police," says Bill.
Robert and Jamie grew up close. "We'd go camping together all the time," Robert recalls. "I'd always get him jobs." But Jamie had difficulty working for anyone for any length of time, and so in recent months he had limited his employment efforts to his own family. Sometimes he helped out with his father's wedding-reception business; at other times he worked at Robert's landscaping sites.
"It was just brother stuff," Robert says. "He was my best friend."
It was when Jamie drank--which he did increasingly--that the family ties stretched thin. "He had an alcohol problem and he knew it," Robert says. "Whenever he got drunk, he was just so different. Whenever he started drinking, we'd fight."
It had happened again on September 9, 1995. Robert didn't bother fighting back much, hoping his brother would wear himself out. "I just basically let him beat the piss out of me," he recalls. But then Jamie went upstairs and attacked Robert's girlfriend and daughter.
Even then, Robert refused to press charges. But his girlfriend did. The trial was held in December 1995. The judge, worn out by Jamie's long police record of assaults and drunk driving, sentenced him to three years in jail.
The Frasiers hired Jamie a new lawyer and appealed. Some of the long sentence was overturned. But much of it was not, and Jamie was ordered to turn himself in to the custody of the Arapahoe County Jail by January 14, 1997, to begin serving a 180-day term.
It wasn't as easy as it sounds. Bill says his son attempted to turn himself in twice to the county jail in early January. But both times, sheriff's deputies told him his paperwork wasn't ready and turned the Frasiers away. "Do you have a big problem with people unsuccessfully trying to break into the jail?" Bill recalls one person in the waiting area cracking.
When Jamie didn't appear at the jail by January 14, the court issued a warrant, and he was picked up on January 15 by the Englewood police.
Several times in the past few years, and especially lately, Jamie had threatened to kill himself. Last summer, on August 4, the Littleton police received a 911 hang-up call from his house. Police traced it and called back. When no one answered, they sent a squad car to the house, where they found Jamie threatening suicide. He was taken to Swedish Medical Center for evaluation and eventually released.
When he entered the Arapahoe County Jail, Jamie was given an opportunity to ask for help, but he declined. As part of the facility's intake procedures, inmates are asked to agree to a contract that reads, "If I feel suicidal I will immediately contact the nearest staff member...and inform them of my feelings and intentions."
"It's basically so if you are feeling self-destructive behavior, you'll let us know so we can get you immediate attention or assistance," says Undersheriff Grayson Robinson. "Jamie signed his. It says, 'I will not try to kill myself while in jail.' It's in his handwriting."
Despite the declaration, over the next few days Jamie told his mother he was depressed and was thinking of killing himself. Both his probation officer and Robinson say that Jamie gave them no indication that he was planning to end his life, though.
Early on Monday, January 20, at about 5:30 a.m., a nurse dropped off Jamie's breakfast. She later reported that he seemed to be acting funny. When she returned several minutes later, Jamie was hanging from a bedsheet tied to an electrical conduit overhead. He had no pulse or heartbeat. He had eaten some of his breakfast.
He was taken to Swedish Medical Center, where he remained in a coma. Later that day, as Jamie lay in his hospital room, a deputy removed the shackles from his legs. Five days later, on January 25, Jamie died. His was at least the third suicide in the jail in the past three years.
"When we think of Jamie, he did not have an easy life," his sister recalled at a small family memorial service. "It makes one think that he just wasn't dealt a good hand. He had dreams for himself that he was only able to think of because of one misfortune or another."
Jamie's police record did not die with him.
On the night of August 19, 1992, Jamie had been arrested by Englewood police for driving while intoxicated. Because of his previous driving offenses, which were numerous, he was prosecuted as a habitual offender. After protracted court maneuvering, Jamie was given a deferred sentence in 1994. He was placed on probation for two years and told to repay court costs.
But he couldn't follow those rules, either. On August 31, 1996, Jamie's deferred sentence was revoked because he hadn't repaid the court system. He was ordered to appear in Arapahoe County District Court on November 21. He didn't, and a review was set for February 12, 1997.
Which is when one of those paperwork snafus that seemingly happen only at the worst possible moments happened.
After Jamie attempted to kill himself on January 20, the Arapahoe County probation department received a fax indicating that Jamie had been admitted to Swedish--but not that he had died. So--according to the computer, anyway--the district court still expected him to make his February 12 court date.
When he didn't, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest. A warrant slip was mailed to the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department, which is responsible for tracking down lost felons. Two weeks later the department acted on the warrant, which is how five deputies in three cars ended up at the Frasiers' house looking for Jamie a month after he died in their facility.
"We occasionally get information after the fact that someone has died," explains Lieutenant Keith Schooler of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department's warrant division. "The courts issue the warrant. We just try to track him down."
"It goes to show how well the system is on track," Amy says sarcastically. "Even if Jamie had been alive, he would have been in their jail. This has been mental anguish in itself.