BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — A Beckley attorney said on Monday, March 20, 203, that his staff is investigating the autopsy reports of prisoners who died at Southern Regional Jail.
Stephen New, who is an attorney in a class action lawsuit filed against Southern Regional Jail last year, said the West Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office rules a high number of jail deaths as “natural” — even in cases where family members say loved ones were being beaten and denied medical care at the jail.
“I’m not saying right now the ME’s Office is in cahoots with anybody, but I’m not not saying that, either,” said Stephen New, the attorney. “Because there’s questionable causes of death from what we know.”
New represents the family of 45-year-old Alvis Shrewsbury, who was an inmate of Southern Regional Jail for 19 days before he died.
New says Shrewsbury had turned himself into police for driving on a revoked license and would have been released after three months, starting August 29, 2022.
Shrewsbury allegedly told his family he was being beaten and other inmates were stealing his food during his time at Southern Regional.
Shrewsbury’s family said jail guards did not help Shrewsbury, even after reports were made.
A guard who was at the jail in August 2022 said Shrewsbury was clearly in pain.
According to New, Shrewsbury told a jail nurse that his ribs were broken and asked for treatment.
“She laughed at him and said there’s nothing wrong with him,” said New. “Gave him Pepto Bismol and said, ‘There’s nothing wrong.’”
Eddie Williams, an Artie man, was on national news after he and three other people illegally entered a mine in December 2018.
He was serving out his sentence at Southern Regional Jail when he was diagnosed with cancer.
His attorney, Robert Dunlap, alleged on Monday, March 20, 2023, that jail doctors did not adequately treat a growing tumor, prompting Dunlap to file multiple complaints on Williams’ behalf until a judge released him to home confinement months later.
Williams died at home shortly after his release.
“I will show you the pictures of Eddie before he died, looking like a cancer patient would look, with absolutely no treatment,” Dunlap said, showing a picture of an emaciated Williams. “The responses we were getting was that Mr. Williams was getting treatment that would rival what he would receive if he was out in the world, going to an oncology center.”
Families of those who have died while serving sentences at Southern Regional say the state owes them answers and that legislators have a responsibility to make a change.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world to know that your child is beat, with no answers, no reason, why,” said Kimberly Burks of Beckley, whose 37-year-old son, Quantez Burks, died at the jail in March 2022 under mysterious circumstances. “They need to be held accountable for what they did to my family and the Shrewsbury family as well as the other families.”
New said state lawmakers, who recently voted not to give pay raises to corrections officers, despite a critical shortage in state jails, must make a change. New said the change would be made “through legislation or through litigation.”
“We stand in solidarity with those who are behind bars in substandard unConstitutional conditions today,” New added.