Billy Tucker dreamed about being a rapper. He introduced his teenage niece to Tupac and 50 Cent during their drives together. He worked hard at Lowe’s to support his family and wrote them into his lyrics when he wasn’t on the job. He talked to his brother about the house they would get when he made it big.

“Kid, we’re just going to take over the world,” he would tell him.

But Tucker’s struggles with substance use and mental illness derailed his dreams, and he died by suicide June 4 at the Cumberland County Jail. He was 32.

Billy Tucker Photo courtesy of Alicia Coffill

When his loved ones gathered outside the jail recently for a candlelight vigil, they brought a poster with photos of him performing, holding a microphone, often wearing a black Red Sox flat brim hat.

“Let the music set you free, Millz,” the poster said, using his rap name.

Lilyaunna Coffill, his 16-year-old niece, gave a speech at that vigil that voiced the family’s many questions. In particular, they have wondered whether Tucker was experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal from opiates and if that pain contributed to his death. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office has declined to address that concern or answer any questions from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram about the care Tucker received during the three days he spent at the jail because his death is still under investigation.


“How much training is there when it comes to these situations and how are people treated when they’re truly struggling?” Coffill wrote in her speech. “How is someone struggling with these issues to be rehabilitated if they don’t make it out alive? We believe there’s not enough that’s being done, as well as a lack of proper treatment for someone struggling with the effects of withdrawal. We’d like to take our time to shine light on this so no one else is left heartbroken and confused, with hope that situations like this are prevented in the future.”

Tucker was arrested June 1 on five warrants for failure to appear in court. Jail officials said the underlying charges for those warrants were mostly misdemeanors and one felony, a count of domestic violence reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon. Chief Deputy Naldo Gagnon said his bail was set at $560. Three days later, he was dead.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that a corrections officer discovered Tucker unresponsive in his cell on the afternoon of June 4, the day after his 32nd birthday, and life-saving measures were unsuccessful. The state medical examiner later confirmed that he died by suicide.

Gagnon said Tucker was in the COVID-19 quarantine pod used for those who are recently booked at the jail, but he did not answer questions about what condition Tucker was in at the jail and what type of care he received from medical staff.

Gagnon said everyone who enters the jail receives a medical evaluation, which might identify the need for certain treatment or even emergency care at the hospital. Corrections officers do their rounds at least every 30 minutes, he said, but the medical staff can require more frequent checks if they are concerned about a person’s mental health. Medication-assisted treatment is available at the jail for those who were already receiving that treatment outside the jail or who are part of the drug court program. It isn’t clear whether Tucker would have been eligible for that kind of treatment, and the sheriff’s office did not answer questions about whether all policies were followed in Tucker’s case.

Family members described Tucker as outgoing and goofy, always ready to make you laugh or fill a lull in the conversation.


He was named for his father. Bill Tucker Sr. said he was a home health care worker when his son was young and used to bring him along sometimes when he was visiting clients. With his blue eyes and curly blond hair, he was “a heart stealer,” his dad said. He loved “The Lion King” and wore out three copies by watching the video so much. He and his dad fished and camped together on Sebago Lake, where his dad said Billy would delight in dinners wrapped in foil and cooked over the fire.

Billy Tucker memorial outside the Cumberland County Jail Photo courtesy of Alicia Coffill

As an adult, he got a job at Lowe’s and moved up the ranks there. His dad said Tucker took on extra shifts to make sure he could support his daughter, now 12.

“He was a very loving kid,” Bill Tucker, 56, said. “When he got next to you, well into his 20s, he would still come up and give you a hug and a kiss on the cheek and say, ‘I love you, Dad.’”

Nate Tucker, 27, said he and his older brother didn’t overlap much as they moved between their parents when they were growing up, so they didn’t really get to know each other until they were adults. But Tucker was always ready to lend a hand. He got Nate a job at Lowe’s and let him stay at his place. After work, they would go to Arby’s by the Maine Mall to get chocolate shakes, Billy’s favorite.

“My brother helped me out in so many ways,” Nate Tucker said. “When I was struggling with finances, he didn’t kick me out or anything, even though he didn’t have a big place. He took me under his wing and helped me get back on my feet.”

Coffill said her uncle loved spending time with her and her siblings, and always wanted to make sure they weren’t getting too old to hang out with him. Her uncle lived in her family’s home at times, and the two of them spent time bonding over music and going on walks together. She described him as her “biggest supporter,” someone who would be there for her when she was having a hard time. She wants people to know who Tucker was to the people who loved him.


“People are looking into this situation and seeing, oh, he was in jail, and he suffered from addiction, so that makes him a bad person,” Coffill said. “They’re seeing all these headlines about him when he was so much more.”

Family members said Tucker had struggled with mental illness and addiction for a long time, and those problems became more acute in the last few years as he struggled to cope with changes in his life. He also recently lost several relatives who were important to him.

Bill Tucker said his son tried repeatedly to get into treatment programs and had even detoxed at his dad’s home in Caribou once. He remembers crying by his son’s side as he witnessed his pain.

“We’re thinking, at least he’s off the streets,” Bill Tucker said about learning that his son had been arrested. “He’s safe. He can maybe get into a program now. You don’t think something is going to happen in jail.”

The Cumberland County Jail has reported four deaths in the last five years, including one other suicide in 2021. Sheriff Kevin Joyce said the staff has averted many more suicide attempts in that time, including seven this year as of April.

Federal data shows the number of suicides in local jails across the country increased 13 percent over two decades, from 289 in 2000 to 355 in 2019. Maine reported 27 suicides in jails during that 20-year period. Nationally, two-thirds of jail suicides between 2015 and 2019 occurred within the first 30 days of incarceration, and more than 40 percent occurred within the first week.


In March, the Maine Center for Economic Policy and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine published a report that made the case for decriminalizing the use and possession of drugs. A bill that would have done so failed to pass the Maine Legislature in 2021, but the report recommended pursuing that strategy and also investing federal and state funding in community programs. In one part of the report, the authors argued that incarcerated people are not able to access the full range of treatment options and community supports necessary to find recovery.

“Most incarcerated people endure withdrawal symptoms with little to no medical intervention,” the report says. “These symptoms can be excruciating: severe abdominal pains, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, tremors, headaches and muscle pain over multiple days. For those who request and are granted medical attention, they may be given some pain medication.”

Winifred Tate, the report’s lead author and the director of the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College, said being in jail further traumatizes people who are struggling with their mental health and substance use.

“This is a story that’s being told by prosecutors and law enforcement, that jail is the safe place, the safety net,” Tate said. “And it’s not. The sooner everybody starts investing in real community supports, the sooner we will have alternatives that will really serve people.”

Billy Tucker performing as Millz Photo courtesy of Alicia Coffill

The report also found a general shortage of medical detox beds, in-patient rehabs and recovery residences, the kind of resources that might help keep people like Tucker out of jail.

“It’s a failure at some level that people who are suffering from a disease are being sent to jail or prison, that we’re not able to provide the help and assistance to people in the community before the criminal justice system becomes a part of their lives,” said Zach Heiden, chief counsel at the ACLU of Maine. “It’s a society-wide failure.”


Tucker had recently talked about trying to get into a detox program in Lewiston, and his dad had promised to be there to pick him up when he completed that program.

“I never got that opportunity to try again,” Bill Tucker said. “I’d have tried 1,000 times if I could do anything for him. There’s nothing I wouldn’t have tried to save him, to get him off that stuff. I knew what he was without it.”

Now a GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $6,300 to help with the expenses of his son’s funeral, and Bill Tucker said he plans to hire a lawyer to look into his son’s death.

He said he wishes he could at least find some of his son’s lyrics, but he fears they are lost to him, too.

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