Staff at the Ramsey County jail were not conducting appropriate checks on inmates last year, according to a state review following an inmate's suicide last year.
The infractions occurred around the same time an inmate jumped to his death from a second-story common room, but they did not directly contribute to Christian Smalley's suicide, said a review by the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
The checks involve the inspection of inmates' cells.
"The health and welfare checks leading up to the time of this incident are out of compliance with facility policy, training and [state] rules," Senior Detention Facility Inspector Greg Croucher wrote to the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office in a letter last month.
Smalley, 57, of Oakdale, died on June 25. He was in custody for allegedly running over a woman with his pickup truck in the Target parking lot on University Avenue in St. Paul. The woman survived but suffered severe road rash, scrapes and bruises.
"Anytime somebody dies in the jail it's a tragedy," said Ramsey County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Steve Frazer. "There was no indication to us that anything had been done improperly to contribute to Mr. Smalley's death."
Frazer said jail staff were aware that Smalley was someone they should keep an eye on, but nothing had indicated that he was suicidal.
Whenever possible, he said, inmates are allowed access to the common room, where phones, tables, games and cards are available.
Croucher's review of Smalley's death found that jail staff did not observe inmates in their cells at least every 30 minutes as required.
"The majority of the health and welfare checks observed were not completed properly," Croucher wrote in another letter sent in January to the sheriff's office. "A significant percentage of the checks observed were in excess of 30 minutes. The correctional officer didn't look into each cell and at times is looking straight forward as they pass the cells."
The officers also walked "too fast," he found.
"Signs of life such as: movement, rise and fall of chest or other signs of life would be difficult to determine at such a quick pace," Croucher wrote.
Months before Smalley's death, jail staff and union representatives said that the jail was severely short-staffed.
Frazer acknowledged Thursday that the sheriff's office relied heavily on overtime then, but he said the jail was staffed adequately with the available personnel.
"There was no indication that [staffing] had anything to do with this incident," he said, "but that was right in the midst of some tough times for us in terms of staffing in the building."
Seventy-three new staffers were hired last year, Frazer said, bringing the corrections staff to about 153. The staff is supplemented by supervisors and others, including two mental health workers, he said.
Since Smalley's death, Frazer said, the county has also promoted two lieutenants to track the jail's wellness checks daily.
The report said the jail "has implemented changes to come into compliance with respect to inmate well-being checks."
Relatives of Smalley could not be reached for comment.