Jail hanging probe launched

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – A 52-year-old man accused of sex crimes died at a hospital after he hanged himself in the Belmont County Jail on Tuesday.

James Chaplin of Jacobsburg was in jail on charges of two counts of rape, one count of gross sexual imposition and two counts of corrupting another with drugs. His case was to have been presented to the December term of the Belmont County grand jury which met Wednesday.

Sheriff Fred Thompson said officials from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Identification came to the jail after the incident happened and have already started an investigation. “That is standard procedure,” he said.

Officials said the incident happened around 11 p.m. Monday, and said Chaplin was still alive when they found him hanging by a sheet in his cell. He was transported to East Ohio Regional Hospital at Martins Ferry and then air flighted by medical helicopter to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh where he died.

Thompson said the jailers on duty worked on Chaplin with chest compressions until the Cumberland Trail Emergency Squad came in and took over resuscitation efforts. “Everyone did all they could,” he said.

According to Thompson, investigators determined that 25 local male juveniles had been victimized by Chaplin. He said Chaplin had other victims in neighboring counties and states and some outside the United States. The sheriff said those incidents occurred while Chaplin was in the military, with some dating back to the 1970s.

Thompson said Detective Andrea Gatti was investigating the Chaplin case, and she does not intend to let the case conclude with his death. The sheriff said Gatti is going to continue to talk with victims and make sure the sheriff’s office is there to offer them any type of support they need.

Chaplin’s death was the second suicide by hanging at the jail during Thompson’s eight years as sheriff. He said there have been other attempts, but jailers have managed to intervene.