LICKING, Mo. – KOLR 10 Investigates has uncovered the Missouri prison where seven inmates died in one month’s time filmed over the surveillance video of their deaths.
Families are demanding answers from the South Central Correctional Center. Toxicology reports show at least half the inmates died of up to eight times the lethal level of fentanyl. It’s also the first time an animal sedative not approved for human use showed up in autopsy results.
Despite pressing the Missouri Department of Corrections to explain how lethal levels of deadly drugs are making it into tax-payer funded prison cells, the prison system insists it can’t pinpoint a primary source.
KOLR 10 Investigates spoke to families of the first and seventh inmate to die between Aug. 31 and Sept. 30. Both were set to be released from SCCC in the coming years.
Kaleb Smith died on Aug. 31 overdosed on seven times the lethal limit of fentanyl according to toxicology results from the Texas County Coroner. His grandmother who raised him spoke to us near their home in Forsyth.
“If I would have spoken up before, would there only have been one instead of seven?” said Melody Smith.
She said the 27-year-old battled addiction since his teen years. Smith was given Narcan, used to treat opioid overdose patients, but Smith could not be revived.
“He did things that were wrong,” said Smith. “But I trusted in the system and he was almost through his time.”
In the next week, three more inmates would die. Terrell Dawson’s toxicology report came back with both fentanyl and a strong animal sedative, xyalzine, used in veterinary offices. It’s not approved for humans and has never before been detected in Cedar County post-mortem exams, according to the coroner. Four rounds of Narcan couldn’t save Dawson.
Information obtained by our investigative team reveals that prison surveillance footage is only kept for a few weeks before it’s wiped to make room for new recordings. By the time we requested the video, it was gone. The records custodian for the Missouri Department of Corrections says videos are not kept anywhere permanently, not even videos showing inmates dying in state custody.
Tammy Washington’s brother Demarco overdosed at the prison on three times the deadly limit of fentanyl and died on Sept. 30.
“I’m still shocked because I had literally just spoke to him,” said Washington. “But I do know how easy it is for inmates to get drugs in the prison system.”
The Missouri Department of Corrections turned down an on-camera interview to explain how drugs are getting in. MDOC Communications Director Karen Pojmann sent an email saying they can’t identify the primary source, pointing to drug fatality rates outside prisons.
Pojmann confirms over this time period, DOC staff across Missouri were both fired and arrested for bringing drugs into MDOC facilities. But no arrests were made in Licking.
“Somebody needs to do something,” said Washington. “It’s not just magically appearing.”
Pojmann says problems that affect Missouri communities as a whole also affect state prisons. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Missourians ages 18 to 44. The Missouri prison system has programs aimed at overcoming addiction, but inmates must commit to recovery.
MDOC says it would be virtually impossible to prevent “something as small as a lethal dose of fentanyl” from getting inside. Since early October when KOLR 10 Investigates revealed the mortality rate at the Licking prison was several times the national average, SCCC did not report any deaths from October until Nov. 22, when Larry Bolton died.
Gov. Mike Parson oversees the prisons. KOLR 10 Investigates asked his office if there’s any plan to investigate the offender deaths at SCCC. His office said the governor has complete confidence in DOC Director Anne Precythe, adding that Gov. Parson is in communication with director Precythe and all cabinet members on a regular basis.
If you have a story you want KOLR 10 Investigates to look into, email Investigative Reporter Lauren Barnas: firstname.lastname@example.org.