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Oregon DOC Did Not Report 78 Prisoner Deaths in 2010-2011

Seventy-nine Oregon state prisoners died in 2010 and 2011, but the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) publicly disclosed just one of those deaths.

The 79 deaths occurred in nine of the ODOC’s 14 prisons, with three facilities reporting double-digit fatalities: 31 deaths at the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) in Salem, 23 at the Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI), 11 at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution (TRCI), 5 at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, 4 at the Oregon State Correc-tional Institution (OSCI), 2 at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) and 1 each at the Columbia River Correctional Institution, South Fork Forest Camp and Deer Ridge Correctional Institution.

“Yes, there was only one media release for inmate deaths issued in 2010 and 2011,” admitted ODOC spokeswoman Jennifer Black. “When an inmate dies in DOC custody, the Department notifies the inmate’s family members or other designated emergency contact, the Oregon State Police, and as necessary, the local District Attorney and the State Medical Examiner.”

Legislative leaders also receive quarterly ODOC death reports, according to Black, which include the prisoner’s age, cause of death and disposition of their remains. Occasionally, the ODOC submits prisoner-death data to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“The Department believes that its reporting of inmate deaths due to natural causes to the above-listed government entities and officials is appropriate,” Black stated. “The Department does not routinely issue a press release to notify the media when an inmate dies of natural causes.”

Many of the 79 deaths in 2010-2011 were due to “natural causes” such as cancer, liver failure, heart disease and other chronic illnesses, in hospices or local hospitals. Others, however, were not so natural – including homicides, suicides and drug overdoses.

As previously reported in PLN, one of the unreported deaths was the May 2011 beating death of prisoner Chris Lange, 62, at SRCI. [See: PLN, Oct. 2012. p.50].

Another involved Thomas Campau, 56, who died in the OSP infirmary on June 19, 2011 after cutting his left wrist and repeatedly beating his head on a radiator. An ODOC captain recommended that Campau be treated at a hospital, according to staff reports; however, a prison doctor and health services manager overruled that recommendation and Campau was instead placed on suicide watch.

On July 6, 2011, prisoner David Wayne, 68, was found slumped on the toilet in his cell at OSP from an apparent drug overdose. Guards discovered a half-loaded syringe and a baggie containing “an unknown brown substance” in the cell.

On November 27, 2011, six days after attempting to commit suicide, OSCI prisoner Michael Halvorson, 50, died at a local hospital.

Another non-natural death occurred on May 5, 2010, when 22-year-old autistic prisoner Richard Gifford died in an OSP segregation cell, ten days before his scheduled release date. Gifford apparently committed suicide by injecting himself with an “undetermined drug or toxin,” according to the autopsy report.

His mother filed a federal lawsuit against prison officials on December 19, 2011, claiming they failed to provide adequate medical treatment, take suicide precautions or provide proper supervision, resulting in Gifford’s death. The defendants’ motion to dismiss was denied on July 10, 2012, and the case remains pending. See: Gifford v. State of Oregon, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.), Case No. 6:11-cv-06417-TC.

The May 31, 2011 hanging death of CCCF prisoner Shelly Resnick, 41, was the only death publicly reported by the ODOC in 2010 and 2011, Black acknowledged. “We posted the passing of Shelly Resnick because her crime and conviction was covered by the media and we thought it would be of particular interest.”

Historically, news releases are issued “to notify the media of the deaths of certain high-profile or notorious inmates,” according to Black. “The Department intends to continue this historical practice.”

In the first ten months of 2012, the ODOC issued news releases for just three prisoner deaths, including the February 3, 2012 death of Michael Clarence Hagen at SRCI; the August 30, 2012 suicide of Scott Villegas at OSP; and the September 29, 2012 death of Antonio Ruiz at TRCI.

Sources: Statesman Journal, Oregonian, The Bend Bulletin,

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Related legal case

Gifford v. State of Oregon