Mother says guards didn’t try to save her son, sent to prison for robbery.
Guards at Smith State Prison didn’t try to stop troubled inmate Richard Tavera from hanging himself until four had assembled outside his cell, videos obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show. By then, more than seven minutes had passed since the first report Tavera was attempting suicide, and nothing could be done to save his life, the videos show.
The videos add to the evidence that officers stood by as the 24-year-old with a history of mental health problems killed himself with a makeshift noose in the South Georgia prison’s isolation-segregation unit.
As the AJC reported earlier this year, Tavera’s death in December 2014 is now the subject of federal lawsuits filed by the inmate’s mother, Maria Arenas of Austin, Texas. The lawsuits in Georgia and Texas claim that the Georgia Department of Corrections and various employees violated Tavera’s civil rights by letting him die.
The prison incident report indicates that two officers didn’t immediately intervene even though they could see Tavera looping one end of a bedsheet around a sprinkler in the ceiling and the other around his neck. According to the incident report, the door to the inmate’s cell wasn’t opened until a third officer, a lieutenant, arrived.
The incident report was the basis of Arenas’ lawsuits when they initially were filed. But now her attorneys have amended the Georgia lawsuit based on additional evidence, including surveillance video from outside the cell and video taken by an officer with a handheld camera after the group went inside.
Showing how the incident unfolded in real time, the videos indicate that four officers were actually on the scene before the door was opened. When the men finally entered the cell, the videos indicate Tavera’s body was hanging limp and lifeless. The handheld video also shows that then the officers didn’t even have the proper tool to cut Tavera down.
One of Arenas’ attorneys, Jeff Edwards, said he believes the videos are an even more explicit sign that the suicide could have been prevented.
“Correctional officers aren’t supposed to let people die in front of them, let alone four officers,” he said.
In Tavera’s case, the surveillance video shows that more than five minutes passed before a second officer arrived, and, even when that officer did show up, neither man entered the cell. In fact, the video shows a third officer coming to the cell about 20 seconds after the second. Still, none of the men went inside.
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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution