The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, June 30, 2021 1:00 am

Jail suicide has inmate's family raising questions

Attorney on case; relatives say she got threats

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Ariona Paige Darling's family never gave up on the fun-loving 18-year-old who died by hanging at the Allen County Jail this week. 

Now Erica and Michael Newton and seven siblings are making funeral plans amid unanswered questions. 

Darling was found Sunday in her cell with a ligature around her neck and taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead, according an Allen County coroner's statement Monday. Her death was ruled suicide.

She was incarcerated May 13 on felony charges of armed robbery and criminal confinement. Court documents show a pre-trial conference Aug. 18 and a three-day jury trial in front of Judge David Zent to begin Nov. 16. 

What none of the statements and court records show is the battle she fought and the efforts the family made to help the lost girl. 

Darling was a normal girl who loved music and dancing until she was molested by a relative when she was 12, her family said. It was an allegation that was made to local child services when Darling was 16, but never taken seriously, her father said. Darling was ready to undergo a lie detector test, they added. 

More than four years ago, Darling was the victim in a sexual misconduct case, the family said.  

Darling was in and out of group homes, juvenile detention centers and residential treatment centers while the family arranged for individual counseling and family therapy in the hopes she would stop acting out. Michael Newton was honest about his daughter's drug use which included heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, he said.

“I could never figure it out,” Michael Newton said. “I tried tough love, all the love. I never stopped trying.” 

Tuesday, Newton family members gathered in the living room of their apartment east of South Hanna Street. They talked about how Darling received threats at the jail from other female inmates and possibly from male inmates who communicate with women through the pipes connected to toilets. 

“They called her a snitch,” Michael Newton said, but insisted he wanted his daughter to be honest with law enforcement with whatever information she had on any case. 

Because she was afraid she could be harmed, she asked for protective custody. During her stay at the jail, she was put on suicide watch and then back into protective custody, the family said. They are asking for a timeline and knowledge of what jail procedures were followed. 

They hope Carmel attorney Stephen Wagner will be able to get answers once he begins an investigation.  

The sheriff's department could not be reached Tuesday when asked to talk about the case. 

Family friend Nicole Gaunt and Erica Newton went to the jail Tuesday to pick up Ariona's belongings. In a see-through plastic bag, they found two cell phone chargers, a necklace with an angel pendant, four rings and a pack of Newport cigarettes, but not her cell phones. 

Darling always had at least one, if not two cell phones on her person, Erica Newton said. 

Her younger sister, Raven, produced a journal of Ariona's that listed the songs she loved by her favorite singer, Michael Jackson, but also facts about his life. Twice she writes about Jackson's abuse by his father and “because he was a part of a world famous band called the Jackson 5.” 

A note to herself in felt tip pen says “stay strong,” and “be amazing,” decorated with musical notes, hearts and the word “Love.” 

A GoFundMe, “Ariona Darling-Newton's funeral fund,” was set up by Erica Newton. The money will go toward paying for her funeral and “a way for everyone to get to come and say goodbye to her beautiful soul.” 

Darling was the fourth person to die while at the Allen County jail in less than two years, all of them ruled suicide. Perry Ziko, 44, hung himself in September, 2019, while his cellmates were distracted, a sheriff's spokesman said.

A year later, Jonathan Fry, 40, died from a suicide, but inmates and his family do not believe it. Mother Cindy Fry continues to seek legal representation. 

In December, Michael Leask, 53, tried to escape and apparently hanged himself while an observation cell was being prepared.

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