Mental health evaluation was recommended for SLO County inmate who hanged himself

San Luis Obispo County Jail, where Arroyo Grande resident Michael Nonella reportedly took his own life Saturday.
San Luis Obispo County Jail, where Arroyo Grande resident Michael Nonella reportedly took his own life Saturday. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

An Arroyo Grande man who the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office says hung himself in his County Jail cell had been recommended to undergo a mental health assessment 10 days before his death, records show.

It is unclear whether that mental health screening was performed.

Michael Wayne Nonella, 47, was found Saturday hanging and unresponsive in his private cell during a scheduled check of inmates at 11:44 a.m., the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

He had last been observed by correctional deputies who brought him lunch about 25 minutes earlier, the release said.

Deputies immediately began lifesaving measures, including CPR, and emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene at 11:46 a.m., a Cal Fire spokesman said.

Nonella had been in custody since July 25 for charges of violating his post-release community supervision, a county level type of supervision created by the passage of AB 109, otherwise known as prison realignment.

He was scheduled to be released Oct. 6.

According to court records, Nonella had a long list of mostly minor alcohol- and drug-related arrests and convictions in San Luis Obispo County going back to 1994. In 1998, he was sentenced to four years in state prison for grand theft.

In 2003, he was sentenced to another 32 months in prison for a parole violation of possessing a controlled substance. He most recently served state prison time in 2016 for another parole violation, according to a Probation Department report.

The mental-health report, written by Nonella’s probation officer and dated July 26, said that since Nonella’s release from prison, his “overall level of compliance has been poor.”

Assessed as high risk for re-offending, Nonella also repeatedly turned down community-based resources such as a sober living environment and treatment through county Drug & Alcohol Services, the probation officer wrote.

On July 11, the officer checked on Nonella at his home and immediately suspected him of being under the influence of narcotics. A urine test came back positive for methamphetamine, the officer wrote. Nonella was told to contact the Probation Department the next day, which he failed to do, according to the report.

On July 25, the probation officer again checked on Nonella, who was out riding a bicycle in Arroyo Grande. This time, the officer suspected Nonella of being under the influence of alcohol; a breathalyzer test came back with a 0.012 blood alcohol content.

Under the terms of his community supervision, Nonella was not allowed to possess or consume alcohol or drugs. He admitted to having a “sip” of alcohol with a friend.

The probation officer wrote that Nonella had at least 12 documented probation violations since his April 2016 prison release, mostly for drug and alcohol consumption.

Though Nonella mentioned to the officer “a mental health diagnosis,” the officer wrote that “the extent of his mental health needs is unknown.”

That officer recommended that the court order a mental health safety assessment, and that upon Nonella’s release from jail for the violation, the Probation Department refer him to Transitions Mental Health Association for possible services.

Steve Rice, a San Luis Obispo-based attorney with the Public Defender’s Office, was the last attorney to represent Nonella in court. Contacted Monday, Rice said he recalled representing Nonella for the Aug. 22 hearing on Nonella’s alleged violation of community supervision.

Rice said he had only just received Nonella’s case and did not have much information about his former client. However, Rice did note that he had no information indicating Nonella was ever given a mental health assessment in the two years in which he was repeatedly in and out of County Jail.

Rice said he didn’t know if the assessment was given before Nonella’s death.

In his report, the probation officer also noted, “To his credit, (Nonella) states he is ready to move away from Arroyo Grande in order to stay away from negative influences,” and that “he stated he would consider the option of sober living or participation in a treatment program.”

The District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office both have ongoing investigations into the alleged suicide. The Sheriff’s Office has denied a Tribune request for a photo of Nonella.

The Tribune has additionally requested records related to Nonella’s time in custody as well as surveillance video footage of Nonella’s alleged suicide. The Sheriff’s Office has received the request, and a formal response is pending.

The Tribune’s efforts to reach Nonella’s family members and friends were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Officials said that Nonella’s was the third attempted suicide in the jail in the past month. Deputies were able to intervene in the other two attempts, both of which occurred separately on Aug. 18, the Sheriff’s Office noted in the release.

Nonella’s death marks the 13th to occur inside County Jail since 2012; the last inmate to die in custody was Hanford man Russell Alan Hammer, 62, who died on Nov. 27, 2017, of pulmonary thrombo-embolism and deep vein thrombosis, according to the Coronor’s Office.

The San Luis Obispo County Jail is under scrutiny from the FBI, which launched a civil rights investigation into practices at the jail following the death of Atascadero resident Andrew Holland in January 2017. Holland was held for 46 hours in a restraint chair and also died from a pulmonary embolism, according to the Coroner’s Office.

The FBI was in San Luis Obispo conducting interviews of county staff in June. An FBI spokeswoman said Tuesday that the investigation remains ongoing.

Of the 12 previous deaths since 2012, just one was ruled a suicide. Paso Robles resident Jordan Turner committed suicide with a razor blade in September 2016.

Several lawsuits filed against the county by family members of other past inmates who have died or allegedly been injured — each alleging mistreatment and inadequate physical and mental health services for inmates — remain ongoing in state and federal court.

Attorney Paula Canny talks about the circumstances surrounding Andrew Holland's death in San Luis Obispo County Jail. Holland died of an embolism Jan. 22 after spending 46 hours strapped to a restraint chair.

In-custody deaths at the SLO County Jail, 2012-17

The following people died while in custody of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office since January 2012.

Jan. 5, 2012: Kevin Lee Strahl, 53. Cause: Hepatic failure, liver fatty change

Nov. 12, 2012: Joseph Morillo, 43. Cause: Cardiac arrest due to thickening of heart muscle and morbid obesity

Jan. 27, 2014: Rudy Silva. Died in hospital care. Cause: Acute hypoxic respiratory failure, septic shock, Influenza A and Staphylococcus Aureus Bacteremia

March 12, 2014: Josey Richard Meche, 28. Cause: Cardiac dysrhythmia with acute methamphetamine toxicity

May 30, 2014: Timothy Richard Jancowicz, 29. Cause: Respiratory arrest due to heroin toxicity

Jan. 11, 2015: David Thomas Osborn Sr., 63, Cause: Acute myocardial infarction, Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, hyperglycemia

March 24, 2015: Sean Michael Alexander, 33. Cause: Microscopic encephalitis, marked pulmonary edema

Sept. 20, 2016: Jordan Benjamin Turner, 36. Cause: Suicide with razor blade

July 16, 2016: Nicole Honait Luxor, 62. Died in hospital care. Cause: Complications from gallbladder cancer

Jan. 22, 2017: Andrew Chaylon Holland, 36. Intrapulmonary embolism

April 13, 2017: Kevin Lee McLaughlin, 60. Cause: Cardiac arrhythmia due to acute chronic ischemic heart disease

November 27, 2017: Russell Alan Hammer, 62. Cause: Pulmonary thrombo-embolism, deep vein thrombosis

Sept. 1, 2018: Michael Wayne Nonella, 47.

Note: Unless stated otherwise, death occurred at the San Luis Obispo County Jail

Local news matters: We rely on readers like you more than ever before, and we currently offer free access to five stories a month. Support us further with a digital subscription to help ensure we can provide strong local journalism for many years to come. #ReadLocal

Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1
Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune