ACLU sues Dept. of Corrections for wrongful death

Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 10:57 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -Investigations by concerned parties are revealing record numbers of Alaskan inmates dying while incarcerated.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) along with the law firm of Friedman Rubin filed a lawsuit on Thursday Aug. 31 against the Alaska Dept. of Corrections (DOC). The suit claims wrongful death on behalf of the family of James Rider, just one of 18 inmates who died in custody in 2022.

Others are also filing similar suits, including attorney Vance Sanders, suing on behalf of 27-year-old Yad Duu Quay Mark Cook Jr.

According to the ACLU, a record number of Alaskans died in custody in 2022. Among them was James Rider, a 31-year-old father, who died by suicide while he was incarcerated.

Rider was incarcerated at Mat-Su Pretrial and died of suicide on September 9, 2022. He had a history of complex substance misuse and mental health issues. His family and Rider himself were aware of mental issues he faced and said he was “begging” for mental health help during his incarceration, but did not receive it. “James and I share a beautiful, brilliant 8-year-old son, who’ll now grow up without knowing his dad,” said Tamara Halliburton.

Mark Cook Jr., also died by suicide in solitary confinement, despite being scheduled for medical care. He had been remanded in Hoonah on misdemeanor charges while awaiting back surgery. He was moved to Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau to receive medical care for his back. Instead, he was placed in solitary confinement and ultimately died by suicide on April 23, 2023, according to the ACLU. “My grandson got a death sentence for a misdemeanor. His bail was $7,500,” said Tom Abel, Cook’s grandfather.

“Alaska does not have the death penalty, but 18 people died in Alaska’s prisons last year and we have seen eight so far this year. For these Alaskans, incarceration is a death sentence,” said ACLU of Alaska Prison Project Director Megan Edge. “We are asking for an independent review of deaths in DOC custody. Then we can begin to make changes that keep people in DOC custody safer and reduce the number of tragedies reverberating from our prisons into our communities.”