NewsCovering Louisiana


Jailers fired over inmate who died after vomiting into mask

Posted at 3:55 PM, Nov 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-11 16:55:21-05

ANGIE, La. (AP) - Five Louisiana prison guards have been fired after one of them was found to have beaten an inmate who later died after vomiting into a spit mask.

Anthony Carl Smith, 55, was found unresponsive in his cell at B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn Correctional Center in Angie on March 10, according to The Advocate. The officers' termination letters say Smith, who was convicted of kidnapping and rape, was suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems when he asked for medical attention that day.

The letters say it was then that a "use of force" happened, and Smith threatened to spit on Sgt. John Crain. In response, the letters say Capt. Brink Hillman ordered Smith to be outfitted with a "spit mask," which authorities say is used to protect officers from being spit on and thus potentially exposed to transmissible diseases.

Two officers then saw Sgt. Gary King repeatedly knee Smith.

Prison records show a nurse checked on Smith, who records say insisted nothing was wrong with him. The nurse noted that Smith had "no signs of or symptoms of injury or neurological deficits."

A "limp and unresponsive" Smith, who one officer said was grunting in pain, was then taken to his cell by wheelchair, according to the letters.

He was left lying on his back, the spit mask still covering his face.

Officers later returned to take Smith to another cell, but Smith didn't answer their calls to come to the bars to be restrained, according to the letters. A still unresponsive Smith was then placed in a wheelchair and moved to the new cell, where officers removed his spit mask to find his face covered in vomit.

A termination letter says the officers were required to photograph Smith's face to file a use of force report. They did. But records show they then deleted it, wiped Smith's face clean of vomit and took a new photo that they actually submitted for review. Hillman later told investigators he deleted the initial photo because it showed the vomit.

Smith, still unresponsive, was then left in the cell and rolled onto his side. It's unclear if the spit mask was put back into place.

Security video shows King later skipped two required checks on Smith's cell, finally stopping by to find Smith still unresponsive. It says he called Smith's name and got no answer, so he touched Smith's foot with a pen, but Smith still didn't respond. Video shows King didn't return to the cell to check on Smith until he notified his supervisor, Hillman, half an hour later.

A nurse administered CPR and applied a defibrillator while emergency medical services was contacted. He was declared dead 30 minutes later.

Hillman told two officers to change and tone down their reports recounting Smith's treatment and death. The termination letters cite falsifying documents or making false statements, among other misconduct, as reasons for the officers' firing.

Hillman, King, Crain, Sgt. Fredrick Coker and Sgt. Dustin Rodgers have appealed, saying inadequate training and a lack of support and medical staff contributed to Smith's death.

The autopsy and prison death report show Smith died from inhaling gastric content. The coroner said food particles were found in Smith's lung tissue.

Smith's sister, Diane Smith, says her family was told that authorities believed her brother had suffered a heart attack. The family has hired a lawyer. She said her brother often complained about being beaten by the guards and had his nose broken at least five times. She rarely got to see him in person, because despite making the trek from Seattle, she often found herself barred from visiting for various reasons. Each time she feared officials were hiding that Smith had suffered another injury, she said.

Washington Parish Sheriff's Chief Deputy Mike Haley said he couldn't comment on the investigation, which he says has been elevated to the district attorney's office and sent to a grand jury.

District Attorney Warren Montgomery declined to comment. Each officer also declined to comment, except for Crain, who said Smith's medical needs meant he should have been housed elsewhere. The officers' attorney, William Arata, declined to comment. A joint hearing is set for this month.