By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro, found hanging in his prison cell last month, may not have committed suicide but died accidentally while performing a sex act, an Ohio state investigative report suggested on Thursday.
The report by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction also said prison officials had falsified logs and failed to make regular checks on Castro's cell September 3, the day of his death.
The accidental death scenario was disputed by Franklin County coroner Jan M. Gorniak, who called it "a hanging suicide" in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.
Castro was serving a sentence of life plus 1,000 years for the abduction, torture and detention of three young Cleveland women. He was taken off suicide watch in June, but was to have been monitored by guards every 30 minutes.
"There appears to be no known, substantiated motivation for the self-inflicted death," the report found.
The state prison report said Castro's trousers and underwear were down around his ankles when he was found hanging from a bed sheet, although the relevance of the finding is "unclear." Those facts were relayed to the Ohio State Highway Patrol for "consideration of the possibility of auto-erotic asphyxiation," the report said.
Auto-erotic asphyxiation is a form of sexual masochism in which oxygen flow to the brain is reduced in order to enhance the pleasure of masturbation.
Gorniak told the Plain Dealer on Thursday she did not see any indication that auto-erotic asphyxiation was a factor in Castro's death, saying: "That's why I called it a hanging suicide."
Reuters was not able to reach Gorniak for comment.
OTHER PRISON SUICIDES
The two correctional officers on duty when Castro was found have been put on leave and face disciplinary action and possible dismissal, according to the report. Ohio prisons were already under increased scrutiny at the time of Castro's death, which came about a month after the suicide of death row inmate Billy Slagle.
In the Slagle case a guard also failed to check at scheduled intervals, and logs were falsified, an official report said.
Another inmate, James Blackburn, serving a 21-year sentence for rape, was found hanged in his cell at a Lebanon, Ohio, prison September 11, according to prison spokeswoman JoEllen Smith.
There have been 88 suicides in Ohio prisons since 2000, with hanging as the most common method, according to a late September report by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.
Calling the prison guards actions "unacceptable," Castro's defense attorney Craig Weintraub said: "Mr. Castro committed heinous and intolerable crimes that required lifetime punishment, but correctional facilities are still responsible for protecting the health and safety of all of the inmates."
The Ohio Civil Services Employee Association, the union which represents prison guards, said the report "unfairly scapegoats" them.
"Why isn't (department) focused on the systemic and more dangerous problems of increased violence, overcrowding or the need for mental health services in our prisons?" asked OCSEA President Christopher Mabe, in a statement.
Castro pleaded guilty in August to more than 900 counts including kidnapping, rape, and murder, after three women and a 6-year-old girl he fathered escaped from his home on May 6. The kidnap victims - Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32 - had been missing up to 11 years.
The report said Castro left no suicide note, and was found with a Bible open to John, Chapters 2 and 3. There were also photos of Castro's family, arranged in a "poster-board fashion."
In documents found in his cell, Castro complains about verbal harassment from other inmates and staff, and conveys fear that someone was tampering with his food, the report said. It also said the food complaints appeared to be unjustified.
Earlier on the day of his death, Castro "appeared happy" at the prospect of being housed in a facility closer to his family, the report said.
Most of his family have publicly disowned Castro, although jail logs from before his conviction indicate that his mother and a sister had visited him in a Cleveland prison.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer, Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune and Gunna Dickson)