Glennville, GA — Richard Tavera was a 24-year-old mentally ill man suffering from bipolar disorder. When his mental illness got out of control, he decided to try and kill himself. He did this in his jail cell as four officers watched the life slowly leave his body.
Guards at Smith state prison did nothing for nearly 8 minutes as Tavera fashioned a noose with his bed sheets and tied to a sprinkler above the cell. Videos obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution show this disturbing event unfold. They also show that Tavera's death was entirely preventable.
Tavera was in an isolation cell because he had a mental breakdown earlier that week. When the guard on duty walked by Tavera's cell, he looked in the window to find the man making a makeshift noose. He then called for help. Instead of help, however, Tavera simply got a larger audience.
The mentally ill Tavera made the poor decision several years ago to steal things from people. While he deserved to be in prison, he certainly did not deserve a death sentence. However, that is what he received and his death is now the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by his mother.
As the AJC reported earlier this year, Tavera’s death in December 2014 is now the subject of federal lawsuits filed by the inmate’s mother, Maria Arenas of Austin, Texas. The lawsuits in Georgia and Texas claim that the Georgia Department of Corrections and various employees violated Tavera’s civil rights by letting him die.
According to official prison policy, officers are not allowed to enter a cell by themselves. This is why the first officer found Tavera making the noose could not go in alone. Despite a second officer showing up, however, still no attempts to enter the cell were made. According to the incident report, the cell door was not opened until the third officer, a Lieutenant, arrived. However, the incident report was false.
In spite of the incident report being enough information to back up their lawsuit, the video shows that there were actually four officers on scene—not three—as Tavera killed himself.
According to the AJC, showing how the incident unfolded in real time, the videos indicate that four officers were actually on the scene before the door was opened. When the men finally entered the cell, the videos indicate Tavera’s body was hanging limp and lifeless. The handheld video also shows that then the officers didn’t even have the proper tool to cut Tavera down.
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“Correctional officers aren’t supposed to let people die in front of them, let alone four officers,” one of Arenas’ attorneys, Jeff Edwards said.
After the first officer found him, it took nearly 5 minutes for the second officer to arrive at Tavera's cell. This was in spite of the emergency demand noting that Tavera was attempting to kill himself. However, five minutes is hardly an acceptable emergency response time.
As the AJC reports,
In Tavera’s case, the surveillance video shows that more than five minutes passed before a second officer arrived, and, even when that officer did show up, neither man entered the cell. In fact, the video shows a third officer coming to the cell about 20 seconds after the second. Still, none of the men went inside.
It was only after the fourth officer arrived and another two minutes had gone by that the group finally opened the door.
All told, 7 and 1/2 minutes elapsed from the time the first officer looked into Tavera’s cell and the four went inside.
At that point, the video from the handheld camera shows Tavera hanging from the sprinkler.
The handheld video shows the officers taking Tavera down, but even that proved time-consuming as the men struggled for nearly 90 seconds to untie the sheet.
Further illustrating the incompetence of the prison guards, none of them had tools to cut down Tavera. In seven minutes, none of them could find so much as a pair of scissors. They fumbled for another minute and a half to cut him down — time which could've saved the man's life.
Even after the guards finally cut Tavera down, it would be over 20 minutes before paramedics arrived at the prison. However by this time, obviously, it was far too late. None of the prison reports indicate why the officers responded so slowly to such a dire situation.
On top of the civil rights claim in the lawsuit, the Georgia suit also makes the claim that the Department of Corrections violated the Americans with disabilities act. While none of the officers or staff involved in Tavera's death will likely be held responsible, rest assured, that the taxpayers most definitely will be.
Below is the disturbing video of Tavera's final moments on this earth.