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An Iraq War veteran wanted rehab but wound up in jail; he overdosed and died

By MARGARET BAKER | The Sun Herald | Published: January 4, 2021

BILOXI, Miss. (Tribune News Service) — The same day that Iraq war veteran Sean Overal collapsed and later died of an apparent heroin overdose at the Hancock County jail, he had been approved for a transfer to a drug rehab center for treatment.

Instead, the 33-year-old Kiln man's family spent the following day in mourning after doctors at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg pronounced him brain-dead.

Overal collapsed and went into cardiac arrest on Nov. 17 after taking drugs that another prisoner had hidden in his gastrointestinal tract and smuggled into jail, Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam said in a press release.

That inmate, whose identity has not yet been released to the public, is still locked up in Hancock County pending further investigation.

Overal's family is waiting for someone to be held accountable for his death.

"I would like to have justice for my brother," his sister Jessica Armstrong said. "I want to find out what really happened, because the story that's being said doesn't sound right. I want my brother to be able to rest in peace. I need closure. I believe something else should have been done to prevent this from happening."

Overal, Armstrong said, had been in custody since mid-September.

Authorities picked him up a day after he had tried to check himself into a veteran's drug rehab to recover from a methamphetamine addiction developed after serving two combat tours in Iraq.

But the veteran's center denied Overal access to rehab services, she said, because he tested positive for COVID-19, though his family said he was asymptomatic.

The following day, Overal was arrested and jailed.

"I don't want my brother's last memories to be he died of an overdose at the jail," his sister said. "He was more than that. He was a good guy. He was decent person and he was a great father."

Sheriff Adam said in December there had not been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the jail. Inmates are kept in isolation for several days after their initial arrest and have their temperatures checked daily before they are moved into the general population with other prisoners.

A investigation is ongoing to determine what criminal charges will be filed in the case, Adam told the Sun Herald.

"We've had meetings with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the local district attorney," he said. "We are looking at state and federal charges."

Though the identity of the prisoner has not been released to the public, Adam said the Diamondhead man remains jailed on drug charges, including a state charge of possession or transfer of a controlled substance into a correctional facility.

"I can't go into anything just yet," Adam reiterated. "But it won't go undone."

Overal developed a drug addiction after serving on the front lines as part of the Army's infantry division. He didn't talk to his family about what happened there, but the dreams haunted him.

"He didn't like to sleep, because if he did, he dreamed about it," his sister said. "He stayed with me for a few months, but he relapsed."

Overal and his sister didn't speak for several months after she caught him doing drugs at her home.

Once he was jailed, she said he called after spending the first several days in isolation.

"He knew if he needed me, he could call me," she said.

The last time she spoke to him was the morning of Nov. 16.

"He called me that morning and said he had just gotten out of suicide watch," she said. "He thought he'd be out by Christmas. He just sounded so sad that day."

By the following day, the family learned he wouldn't be coming home.

On Nov. 17, the sheriff's office identified Overal as one of three prisoners who used the batch of drugs smuggled in.

In a release, the sheriff's office said all three prisoners started to experience symptoms of a drug overdose the same day they ingested them.

The deputies successfully resuscitated two of the inmates, a release said, but Overal went into cardiac arrest, was taken to a Hancock County hospital, and later airlifted to Forrest General Hospital.

On Nov. 28, Overal was taken off of life support and died.

Armstrong and her family, including her brother, Andrew Overal, said they will never get over what happened to their brother.

They said they first learned he had overdosed from inmates who called the family. Armstrong and Overal's girlfriend went to the jail that night to find out what happened, but were told deputies would call if something happened.

That call came the following day.

Since then, Armstrong said she has met with a prisoner who was there when Overal collapsed.

That inmate, she said, told her something different than what was released.

Armstrong wants to see video footage from inside the jail that could allow her to see firsthand what transpired in the moments leading up to and after his collapse.

"I want to know what happened," she said. "I want justice for my brother."

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