Two more men have died in the Baltimore jail system, putting a spotlight on the state’s ongoing challenges with providing adequate medical and mental health services in the facilities.

Edward Bentley, 64, died on March 22 of a heart attack in the hospital wing of the Metropolitan Transition Center, where he was recovering from what the federal public defender described as a “routine hernia surgery.”

Stephon Martin, 50, a longtime employee of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, died less than one week later, on March 28, in the Baltimore Central Booking & Intake Center.

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services runs the jail system in Baltimore and does not publicly announce deaths that take place in custody unless they are suspected to be homicides. The agency confirmed the deaths of Bentley and Martin after receiving questions from The Baltimore Banner.

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In an email, Federal Public Defender James Wyda said Bentley was a “presumed innocent pretrial detainee” who “struggled with mental health and substance abuse issues for much of his life.”

Though Wyda said his office was still waiting for more information about its client’s death, he noted that the state has “struggled for years to provide adequate medical and mental health care to detainees.” No one, he said, would want their loved one to undergo any kind of surgery in a jail hospital in Maryland.

“Mr. Bentley was poor. And suffered from mental illness. But he mattered too,” Wyda said. “We have to do better.”

The Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported that it declined to perform an autopsy on Bentley. Meanwhile, the results of Martin’s autopsy are pending.

Bentley was facing charges in U.S. District Court in Baltimore of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a prohibited person and possession of a firearm in a school zone. He had been accused of having a loaded rifle and shotgun within 1,000 feet of Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School on Sept. 17, 2022.

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In an email, Marcia Lubin, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland, said federal prosecutors will be dismissing the case.

Martin was facing charges of first- and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, use of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence and related offenses. He had been accused of shooting a family member on Nov. 14, 2023, but maintained that he never fired a weapon.

His attorney, Howard Miliman, described him as a great guy who was easygoing. The city’s salary database shows that Martin worked at the public works department since at least 1998. He had been scheduled to go to trial on April 12 in Baltimore Circuit Court.

“He was not a danger to the community, as this was a family incident,” Miliman said. “And they should’ve had him either on home detention or on bail.”

“It’s a shame, sometimes,” he added.

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The deaths of Martin and Bentley are the second and third in the last month in the jail system. Louis Maurice Mason died on March 8 at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Mason, who had been experiencing issues with substance use and homelessness, fell ill weeks earlier while in the custody of the jail system, the state corrections department reported. He had been facing charges related to a break-in at a laundromat, where he was accused of stealing chips and candy.

Deaths in Baltimore detention facilities are mounting while department faces continuing scrutiny over its health care and mental health services.

The agency is still struggling to come into compliance with the terms of a 2016 settlement in a decades-old lawsuit brought by a coalition of civil rights groups. The case is ongoing.

Last month, The Banner reported on ambitious plans for a new $1 billion facility in Baltimore that would 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 the history of Maryland.

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