A 67-year-old man suffering from health ailments who struggled with substance use issues and homelessness recently died while in the custody of the Baltimore jail system.

Louis Maurice Mason died on March 8 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said on Monday. The Baltimore Banner learned of the death from independent sources. The corrections department says it only notifies the media of deaths in its facilities when homicides are suspected or confirmed.

When reached by phone, a family member of Mason said he was being buried on Monday and that the family requested privacy.

Mason had “fallen ill” on Feb. 24 and was transferred to the hospital, but returned to the pretrial infirmary later that day, the corrections department said. Four days later, he was returned to the hospital, then died there 12 days later.

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‘I don’t want to impact your overall health’

More than a week before Mason first fell ill, his public defender said during a bail hearing on Feb. 15 that his client was receiving treatment at a nearby hospital for diabetes and recent strokes, and advocated for his release.

At the same bail review hearing, a pretrial release investigator stated that Mason reported that he had been homeless for three months and used cocaine daily for the last 40 years.

Mason, she said, had prior convictions for trespassing, drug possession and second-degree murder from when he was a teenager in the 1970s.

The pretrial release investigator recommended no change in bail, which a district court commissioner had set at $3,500. Mason was required to pay the entire amount to be released from jail.

The assistant state’s attorney acknowledged that amount was basically the equivalent to ordering him held without bail.

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“I’m asking that the defendant be held at this point. Open to suggestion about treatment,” she said. “But given his history, I’m hesitant. I would want to get a lot more information before I agree to anything else.”

Mason’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Kati-Jane Childs, said her client had diabetes and last year suffered two strokes. Mason, she noted, has been seeing a doctor at MedStar Harbor Hospital.

Childs asked the judge to release her client or alternatively keep his bail the same. The Maryland Office of the Public Defender, she said, could reach out to a nonprofit organization about posting the money.

District Judge Jennifer Etheridge agreed to keep the bail the same.

“I want you to be able to continue with your help that you’re getting at Harbor Hospital. I don’t want to impact your overall health,” Etheridge said. “But you need to find another way to make money.”

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Several weeks later, after he had been hospitalized, a judge lowered Mason’s bail to a $5,000 unsecured personal bond on March 11, which meant that he would not be required to pay any money but would be on the hook for that amount if he missed court.

But Mason would have been dead for three days already at that point. More details about that hearing were not immediately available.

Arrested over allegations of stealing chips and candy

According to court documents, Baltimore Police arrested Mason on Feb. 14 after an officer reporting seeing broken glass from the entrance of a laundromat on Greenmount Avenue near East 30th Street on the edge of Better Waverly and finding Mason alone inside the building.

Mason claimed that he was there doing laundry. But police reported that Mason had a black bag filled with candy and chips that law enforcement determined that he had stolen from a vending machine.

Police estimated the value of the broken glass door at about $1,200, busted vending machine at $1,000 and “approximately 250 assorted candy and chips” inside the bag at $500.

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Those charges of burglary, malicious destruction of property and theft were the culmination of a series of encounters that Mason had last month with the criminal justice system.

On Feb. 4, Mason was issued a summons on charges of second-degree assault and wearing or carrying a dangerous weapon with intent to injure. The details of that case were not immediately available.

Four days later, police were called to Lexington Market, where security alleged that they had detained Mason three days earlier for stealing. The head of security described Mason as a “frequent shoplifter” and spotted him hanging near the market at about 9 a.m.

Police arrested Mason and took him for questioning at the Central District. Law enforcement then took him to the Baltimore Central Booking & Intake Center.

The following day, potentially while he was still in custody, Mason was also arrested on an outstanding warrant on charges of rogue and vagabond and theft. He had been accused of breaking into a Frito-Lay delivery truck in the parking lot of a Rite Aid on West Chase Street near Brexton Street in Mid-Town Belvedere and stealing seven boxes of snacks on Aug. 19, 2015.

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Court records show that Mason was released on Feb. 9 on his own recognizance and on a $2,500 unsecured personal bond, respectively, in those two cases.

He’s alleged to have committed the break-in of the laundromat five days later.

A legal system ill-equipped to deal with social issues

David Jaros, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said that, based on the court records uncovered by The Banner, the judge and the prosecutor and the public defender “didn’t do anything that was egregiously wrong or outside the norm.”

“They’re simply operating within a larger system that is not designed to deal well with these kinds of social problems and medical problems,” Jaros said.

Jaros described the death was one of the “inevitable tragedies” that results from not investing enough in social services that deal with issues such as addiction and homelessness.

The state corrections department confirmed that Mason’s was the first death in the Baltimore jail system this year.

The last person to die while incarcerated in a Baltimore jail was Scott Stanley, 50, who died in Central Booking on May 2, 2023, while awaiting trial, according to the records. His death was ruled an “accident.”

Several weeks earlier, on March 11, 2023, Jeffrey Chaney, 67, died in Central Booking, a death that mortality records recorded as “natural.”

It’s unclear from court records what criminal charges Stanley or Chaney were facing at the time. Neither man had been convicted. In Maryland, cases are automatically cleared from online court records if they do not result in a conviction.

The deaths in Baltimore jails come as the state faces continuing scrutiny over its health care and mental health services in the city’s pretrial detention system. They followed the death of Deandre Whitehead, who died after reportedly suffering from a seizure. His family questioned whether he received appropriate medical care.

The state of Maryland is still struggling to come into compliance with the terms of a 2016 settlement in a decades-old lawsuit brought by civil rights groups that challenged the constitutionality of its health care and mental health systems. The case is ongoing.

Last week, The Banner first reported the ambitious plans for a new $1 billion facility in Baltimore that would rise to become the centerpiece of the pretrial detention system. If lawmakers approve the governor’s proposed budget, it will be the most expensive state-funded project in Maryland history.

The corrections department has claimed it needs the new facility to optimize medical and mental health treatment, though plaintiffs in the health care lawsuit questioned its reasoning and what they termed to be contradictory stances on the necessity of the new building.

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