Virginia Beach Correctional Center inmate dies by suicide

An inmate at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center died by suicide yesterday morning, the jail’s first suicide death in custody in 10 years.

While conducting a routine security check shortly after midnight on Aug. 9, a deputy sheriff found inmate Carlton Lee Lawson, 50, of Ashland, Va., unresponsive in his cell and immediately initiated rescue efforts. Despite receiving medical attention from jail medical staff, the Virginia Beach Fire Department and Virginia Beach Emergency Medical Services, medics declared Lawson deceased just before 1 a.m.

Lawson was booked into the Virginia Beach Correctional Center on July 29, 2020, on two charges – felony driving while intoxicated (third conviction within 10 years) and misdemeanor driving without a license – and denied bond by a magistrate. He was given a medical and mental health screening and placed on observation for detoxification. He completed detox on Aug. 3 and was moved into a cell without a roommate, where he resided at the time of his death. None of his statements or screenings indicated he had suicidal intentions.

As with all in-custody deaths, the incident is being investigated by the Virginia Beach Police Department and the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office. As required, the incident has also been reported to the Virginia Department of Corrections, which reviews all in-custody deaths and has the authority to investigate. No foul play is suspected.

The cause and manner of death is determined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Norfolk.

The Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office has been a leader in jail suicide-prevention efforts: establishing direct observation rooms for inmates at risk of attempting suicide, training all deputies in crisis intervention techniques and ensuring that suicidal individuals are never housed alone. All inmates receive comprehensive medical and mental health screenings during the intake process. The screenings look for symptoms of mental illness and examine their past and present mental status, history of depression and suicidal tendencies. Every inmate is asked:

• Do you feel depressed at this time?

• Do you have anything to look forward to in the immediate future?

• Have you recently experienced a significant loss?

• Are you thinking of hurting or killing yourself?

• Have you considered suicide in the last 3 months?

• Have you ever attempted suicide?

• Has a family member/close friend every attempted or committed suicide?

Deputies intervened in 14 inmate suicide attempts in the Virginia Beach Correctional Center last year, saving the lives of every individual involved. The last in-custody death by suicide was in March 2010.

“Largely due to our aggressive suicide-prevention efforts, no one has taken their own life while in custody at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center in 10 years,” said Sheriff Ken Stolle. “However, it is my duty to protect the health and safety of everyone in this jail and any loss of life is unacceptable. Unfortunately, one of the most difficult challenges we face is how to protect people from themselves. As we know too well, those most intent on harming themselves often show no signs until it is too late. That was the case with Carlton Lawson, who gave us no indication that he was suicidal. Still, one death by suicide is one death too many. I never want anyone to die in this jail and I do everything in my power to prevent that from happening. I am fully investigating this incident and I am requesting that the Department of Corrections do so as well. My heart goes out to the Lawson family for their tragic loss.”

Any questions or requests for additional information from the news media may be directed to Kathy Hieatt, Public Information Officer: or 757.385.8446 (office).