Democrat leader calls for investigation of prisoner death

The chairman of the state Senate’s Democratic Caucus has called for Gov. Bill Haslam to order a “full and complete investigation” into the 2013 death of a 55-year-old state prison inmate who prison records say died of natural causes but whose autopsy found “multiple blunt traumatic and thermal injuries.”

Further from Richard Locker:

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said an article in The Tennessean newspaper on Sunday about the conflicting official reports on the death of inmate Elbert Thornton at West Tennessee State Prison raises questions about the “very integrity of the government and the Department of Correction’s credibility.” Thornton was found unresponsive in his cell on June 12, 2013, and he was pronounced dead later that morning at a Lauderdale County hospital. (Note: Previous post HERE.)

Yarbro said he hasn’t been able to review the documents himself “but the facts laid out are troubling if not alarming. The department has reported that Mr. Thornton died of natural causes when the autopsy required by state law found he died of multiple blunt trauma to the head and torso and severe burns. Obviously a natural death is not typically accompanied by chest fractures, head injuries and severe burns of that nature.

“We need answers and we need them now. If the administration has covered up torture or homicide in a state prison, that is a problem of the highest magnitude. If The Tennessean reporting is inaccurate or incomplete or misleading, we need to know that too. … And so today I want to call upon the governor to order a full and complete investigation of both Mr. Thornton’s death and the investigation that followed,” said Yarbro, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

David Smith, the governor’s press secretary, issued a statement Monday saying, “As with any inmate death, a full investigation was completed, and the death was reviewed by the mortality and morbidity panel. The case was presented to the local district attorney’s office for review, and it’s my understanding charges were not pursued.”

…Department of Correction spokeswoman Neysa Taylor said the agency cannot disclose an inmate’s medical history but said, “Mr. Thornton had multiple medical complications that contributed to the autopsy findings.”