Six inmates die at Valdosta prison within year: Open records request makes deaths public

  • In US
  • 2022-09-26 00:20:00Z
  • By Thomasville Times-Enterprise, Ga.

Sep. 25-VALDOSTA - Six inmates have died at Valdosta State Prison during the last year, including two homicide victims, according to prison documents.

Information on all six deaths was provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections after The Valdosta Daily Times made open records requests.

The Times made a blanket request from the corrections department in early September for information on all deaths at Valdosta State Prison from Sept. 14, 2021, to Sept 14, 2022.

On reports for all six inmates, information on medical aid rendered at the prison and details on the cause of death were blacked out. These redactions were to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act which provides, among other things, for the privacy of medical records, said Vicki W. Judd of the Georgia Department of Corrections' legal services office.

Other redactions in the documents were made for details related to open investigations, she said.

Dewey Slayton

Inmate Dewey Slayton was found unresponsive on a cell floor at 3 a.m. Jan. 5, prison documents show. Staff administered first aid until EMTs arrived but Slayton was pronounced dead at the scene.

An incident report labeled his death a suicide.

Wiley Tucker

Inmate Wiley Tucker was found unresponsive in his cell at 5 a.m., Feb. 1, reports show. E

MTs arrived but were unable to revive him and he was declared dead at 5:20 a.m.

His body was sent to the GBI crime lab for an autopsy; an incident report filed three days after the incident calls the death a suicide, according to prison documents.

George Buffkin

The death of George Buffkin on Feb. 13 appears only in a listing of deaths at Valdosta State Prison provided by the corrections department without any supporting documents. The listing gives the cause of death as "natural."

Judd said there are "no records that are subject to release under the Open Records Act concerning the death of offender Buffkin. Any relevant records would be protected under HIPAA."

Since the death was by natural causes and there was nothing unusual about the circumstances, no incident report was filed, she said.

Hakeem Williams

Hakeem Williams was "fatally assaulted" by his cellmate at 12:10 p.m., Feb. 28, corrections documents show. At 12:45 a.m., he was put in an ambulance heading to South Georgia Medical Center for treatment; he was not alert or conscious when the ambulance left the prison, records show. A search of the area where the assault occurred took place but whatever was recovered was blacked out in the report.

At 12:53 p.m., Williams was pronounced dead of homicide, documents show. An incident report mentions "disruptive behavior, contraband-hard, disruptive event."

Derick Joshua Ferrell

Derick Joshua Ferrell died April 6 at Valdosta State Prison, according to documents provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections after The Valdosta Daily Times made an open records request in July.

The Times found out about the inmate's death and reported on it after being contacted by one of Ferrell's family members.

At 9:46 p.m., April 6, medical assistance was called to dormitory A2 for Ferrell, who was taken to the prison's medical bay, documents show.

The nature of the medical situation was redacted in the documents. Corrections department records characterized his death as a "disruptive event."

Medical aid was rendered and 911 was called.

An emergency lockdown and prisoner count were held.

Ferrell was declared dead at the prison just past midnight by the coroner, a report shows.

Darius Deshon Lowe

Inmate Darius Lowe was found unresponsive in his cell by security staff at 1:17 a.m., April 13, records show. He was declared dead by the coroner's office at 2:53 a.m. An incident report characterized the death as a suicide.

Valdosta State Prison has seen many inmate deaths in recent years:

- Investigators believe inmate Bobby Carpenter died from injuries following a fight with another inmate Sept. 9, 2020, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections statement. The cause of death appeared to be stab wounds, Lowndes County Coroner Austin Fiveash said.

- Orvonta Tillman is believed to have died June 15, 2020, as a result of injuries sustained during an altercation with another inmate. At the time, Fiveash said Tillman died of stab wounds.

- Prince Blige, 55, died Feb. 11, 2020; he was believed to have been killed in an inmate fight, according to the corrections department.

- On Sept. 5, 2019, Brodrick Seals, 28, died after being found unresponsive in his cell; authorities claimed his death was a suicide.

- Elander Johnson died July 25, 2019, as a result of injuries apparently sustained during an altercation involving another inmate in a case being investigated as a homicide, according to the corrections department.

- On May 26, 2019, guards found Astair Holmes Jr. unresponsive in his cell; prison officials were his death as a possible suicide.

- Inmate Simon Warren died April 14, 2019, after a suicide attempt, according to state prison officials.

- Kealy Williams, 37, died March 30, 2019, from injuries caused by a fight with another inmate, according to a corrections department statement.

- In August 2018, Joshua Roman died of injuries sustained in a fight, according to the corrections department.

- In July 2018, Herman Galeno, 31, was found unresponsive in his cell.

- In June 2018, David Cordova was found unresponsive in his cell.

- In April 2018, Joseph Pagen's death following a fight was investigated as a homicide, according to the corrections department.

- In March 2018, Benjamin Snyder died following an inmate fight; the corrections department investigated his death as a homicide.

- On Dec. 4, 2017, inmate Jenna Mitchell died of apparent suicide. A lawsuit was filed against the state prison system claiming her death was due to deliberate "indifference" to her medical and mental health needs, according to court documents. The corrections department settled with her family in late 2021 for $2.2 million.

Terry Richards is the senior reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times.


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