The ACLU and relatives of Nevada prisoners have raised concerns in the wake of numerous deaths at one state prison, including four in a span of less than one month in 2013. Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) officials said that of the deaths at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center’s regional medical facility, most resulted from natural causes. At least 47 prisoners died at the same prison in 2014 and 2015 combined.
On October 4, 2013, convicted cop killer Larry Peck was found unconscious and unresponsive in his cell. Peck, 62, had been incarcerated since 2003 for the murder of Reno police officer John Bohach during a standoff; he was serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, along with convictions for resisting arrest and obstructing an officer with a deadly weapon. He was pronounced dead at the Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center; authorities said they did not suspect foul play.
Only one day later, prison officials discovered the body of prisoner Richard Ferst in his cell. Ferst, 52, had been incarcerated since July 2011 and was serving a 3-to-20 year sentence for burglary, grand larceny and possession of stolen property. Foul play was also ruled out in Ferst’s death.
A 31-year-old prisoner was discovered unconscious in his cell on October 21, 2013. Joseph Oxford-McArthur was taken to Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center, where he died four days later. He had been jailed since July 2012 on a one-to-three year sentence for domestic battery.
Also on October 21, prisoner Scott Wilson died in the prison’s medical unit. Wilson, 54, had been incarcerated since April 2009; prison officials said he had been ill prior to his death. His name was not publicly released until April 2014 – six months later. Officials said they had withheld his name until they could locate his family members.
“They may never find next of kin,” noted Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada. “It’s one thing to give them a certain measure of time – to use that as a screen to hide behind when no next of kin may be found is absurd.”
Questions were raised about medical care at the facility because NDOC officials declined to discuss the circumstances of any of the four deaths that occurred during the one-month period, but in each case the medical examiner in the local jurisdiction was tasked with conducting an autopsy and no foul play was identified.
Since the rash of deaths in October 2013, almost four dozen prisoners have died at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC), including the following cases.
Paul Skinner, 52, was declared dead after being found unconscious at the prison in January 2014; he had served around 17 years. Then Jerome Urban, 56, died on April 30, 2014; officials said Urban, who was serving ten years-to-life with the possibility of parole for sexual assault, suffered from a chronic medical condition. The following month, 70-year-old prisoner Eric Brown, who was serving four-to-ten years, also died due to a chronic medical condition.
Frederick J. Sigmund, 72, who had been incarcerated since November 1981, was found dead in his cell on October 18, 2014 in what NDOC officials initially believed was a homicide. The Carson City Sheriff’s Office and Washoe County Crime Lab were summoned to investigate, but an autopsy conducted by the Washoe County Coroner’s Office revealed Sigmund’s death was actually due to a medical problem.
Vincent Depasquale, 54, died on June 15, 2015 at NNCC, where he was serving life without parole on a first-degree murder conviction, prison officials said. And in October 2015, prisoner Travis Gray, 31, serving time for attempted theft, was found dead at the facility.
Most recently, on December 19, 2015, Anthony Daniels, 53, died in NNCC’s medical unit; he was serving two-to-six years. An autopsy is pending.
A total of 36 Nevada state prisoners died in 2013 (18 at NNCC), while 44 died during 2014 (24 at NNCC) and 41 had died in 2015 as of late December (23 at NNCC).
“We believe that substandard medical care is rampant throughout the Nevada prison system,” said Lichtenstein. “We get a significant number of complaints about that.”
Sources: Associated Press, Reno Gazette-Journal, www.jrn.com, www.lasvegassun.com, www.rgj.com, www.reviewjournal.com
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