Death Investigations in the Jail
Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip. It’s about your role as a first responder to an inmate death in your jail.
Follow the logical investigative steps. Don’t move anything until it is photographed, measured and documented. Collect everything that may be relevant.
How likely is it that a death will happen in your jail? On your watch? The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2014 that 1053 inmates died in US jails. That’s roughly three inmate deaths per day.
Each of you plays a role in the initial investigation of any death that happens on your watch. You, meaning the members on your shift, have a mandate to investigate and find the evidence that helps answer two key questions.
Question #1: What is the medical cause of death? We know you are not doctors or medical examiners. But the medical information in your records about the deceased inmate can be critical. Your knowledge about the deceased inmate’s health and behavior is equally important.
Question #2: What is the manner of death. Under what circumstances did this inmate die? Was it an accident? Suicide? Homicide? Natural Causes? Was it disease or illness related?
No one expects you to have all the answers on the tip of your tongue. But there are critical first steps you should follow to help ensure a complete and thorough investigation.
Every place where an inmate dies should be treated like a crime scene. Establish crime scene security. No unauthorized persons in the crime scene. No undocumented removal of anything that could be evidence.
Was there a cellmate present when the discovery was made or reported? If so, remove and isolate that inmate until investigators can talk to him or her. Do not allow this inmate to change clothes, bathe, eat, or drink anything.
Follow the logical investigative steps. Don’t move anything until it is photographed, measured and documented. Collect everything that may be relevant. Better to have too much than to overlook important evidence. It is critical that you establish and maintain the chain of custody for all evidence.
You will be the first responder. Do it right. Your agency’s investigators and the Medical Examiner will appreciate it. That’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.