Incorrect Cause of Tennessee Prisoner’s Death Reported by CoreCivic Employees
According to the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), state prisoner Edward Ray Gilley, Jr., 54, died on November 5, 2016 at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, a facility owned and operated by CoreCivic – previously known as Corrections Corporation of America.
In response to a public records request filed by Prison Legal News, on February 13, 2018 the TDOC’s director of communication, Neysa Taylor, reported that Gilley’s death was due to “natural causes.”
Unless overdosing on meth is “natural,” however, that cause of death was incorrect – though it evidently was not scrutinized or questioned by TDOC officials.
A previous news report by WSMV Channel 4 in Nashville indicated that Gilley had died of an overdose, though he wasn’t mentioned by name in the report. PLN obtained a copy of the autopsy results from the medical examiner’s office, which concluded that Gilley’s death was caused by “toxic effects of methamphetamine complicating hypertensive cardiovascular disease.” The report noted that a toxicology screen was “significant for methamphetamine” at almost four times the reporting threshold, and the cause of death was ruled accidental – as in an accidental overdose.
It was not listed as due to natural causes.
Yet “natural causes” was the entry made by CoreCivic employees Lt. Julie Englebrecht and Beverly Atwood, an administrative assistant to Trousdale’s warden, according to records produced by the TDOC pursuant to another public records request filed by PLN.
Gilley’s sister, Diana, said prison officials at Trousdale falsely informed her that her brother had died of a “massive heart attack.”
“It was an overdose, an overdose of meth in this facility,” his sister told WSMV. “Words cannot express the shock we have on so many levels that this could even possibl[y] be anything that would be considered in a state correctional center. Unbelievable. How he got it, where he got it. Was it manufactured in there? Who supplied him with this? It’s beyond anybody’s comprehension how this could happen.”
CoreCivic’s Trousdale prison has been plagued with problems since it opened in 2016, including understaffing, complaints about inadequate medical care, a suicide, and high levels of violence and gang activity. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.46]. There have been at least nine prisoner deaths, including Gilley’s, from 2016 through March 2018.
This was not the first time that CoreCivic incorrectly reported a prisoner’s cause of death. When Estelle Richardson, a mother of two, died at the CCA-operated Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility in Nashville on July 5, 2004, the company recorded her death as being due to “natural causes” in an internally-compiled list of incidents provided to Florida officials as part of a contract bid.
In fact, the medical examiner had determined Estelle’s death was a homicide.
On April 16, 2018, PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann provided public testimony before the state House Government Operations Committee. He raised the issue of Gilley’s death being incorrectly reported by CoreCivic as due to “natural causes,” noting that the company’s employees had an incentive not to disclose adverse incidents such as overdoses – which would raise questions about how the drugs were obtained, how they were brought into the facility and whether the company had conducted an investigation.
“We have a problem with CoreCivic misrepresenting the cause of death of a prisoner, and we have a problem with the Tennessee Department of Correction accepting that information, apparently without question, and disseminating it to the public even though it conflicts with the medical examiner’s report, which indicates a lack of oversight, a lack of monitoring,” Friedmann told the legislative committee.
During the same hearing, TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker responded to that issue. With respect to a prisoner’s overdose death, he stated, “it could appear to be a natural death depending on the circumstances ...,” and noted it takes months to get autopsy results that list the official cause of death. “It is possible for a death to be assumed or listed as ... a natural cause [of] death, but after you get the reports back and other evidence comes forth, it can be changed,” Parker said. He added that the TDOC had taken recent steps to improve oversight at Trousdale, including assigning additional contract monitors and imposing fines against CoreCivic.
However, in the case of Gilley, the autopsy report that determined his death was caused by a meth overdose was completed by the medical examiner in December 2016, yet the TDOC was still stating that he had died of “natural causes” in February 2018 – indicating the incorrect cause of death reported by CoreCivic had not been reviewed or changed by state prison officials in over 14 months.
Sources: www.wsmv.com, TDOC public records requests, www.legislature.state.tn.us