LINCOLN -- A visitor may have slipped contraband to a prison inmate who was found unresponsive six days later and died from a drug overdose, according to a report released Wednesday.
But Inspector General of Corrections Doug Koebernick, who issued the report, said his investigation could not pin down whether the events were linked.
“There’s a lot of questions still,” he said. “I couldn’t find any proof one way or another.”
Nor does the report provide answers about why staff did not respond to early-morning attempts to get help for the inmate.
Daelan LaMere, 22, died at a Lincoln hospital the evening of June 6 after being found unresponsive in his Tecumseh State Prison cell the morning of May 27.
A spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services said department Director Scott Frakes was not available to comment on the report Wednesday afternoon.
According to a summary of the inspector general’s investigation:
LaMere had a visitor at the Tecumseh prison on May 21. When the visitor left, prison staff did a strip search of LaMere.
One staff member saw a lump in LaMere’s cheek. Upon further investigation, the staff member saw a blue pouch in LaMere’s mouth and told him to spit it out. LaMere instead appeared to swallow the pouch.
He was taken to an observation cell in the prison’s nursing area and kept until the next day, but no evidence of contraband was found.
LaMere’s visits were suspended after that incident.
According to the investigation, LaMere’s cellmate awoke six days later at about 3:15 a.m. to find that LaMere was struggling to breathe, had vomited and was unresponsive.
The cellmate and an inmate in the next cell pushed the response buttons in their cells to call for help but got no response.
Koebernick said his investigation found one person who said the volume on the response buttons had been turned down.
He said he could not verify that information, however. Video from the housing unit does not have sound on it.
The video does show staff doing cell checks in the early-morning hours. LaMere’s cellmate said he remembered a cell check at 5:03 a.m., but at that point, LaMere seemed to be doing better so he did not say anything.
LaMere did not get help until 6:18 a.m., after the cell doors opened at 6:15 a.m. and his cellmate alerted staff.
In the report, Koebernick concluded that LaMere’s death appeared to be “the result of unwise actions taken by himself.”
“However, there are lessons to be learned in this case,” he said.
He recommended reviewing the staff’s ability to turn down the volume on the inmate response buttons. He also recommended a drug awareness campaign and steps to strengthen efforts to keep out drugs and alcohol.
Because LaMere died in state custody, a grand jury investigation must be conducted. The State Patrol also launched an investigation.
LaMere was the fourth inmate from the Tecumseh prison to die this year. He had been serving a 6- to 11-year sentence for robbing a convenience store and using a firearm to commit a felony.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the inmate died six days after possibly receiving the contraband.