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Powell County conducts three inquests into state prison deaths

Powell County conducts three inquests into state prison deaths

Montana State Prison

Prisoners walk into a unit at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge in this file photo.

A Powell County jury on Thursday found the Montana State Prison was not at fault in the separate deaths of three inmates.

All three inmates died by their own conduct, although only one meant to die by suicide, the jury found. Coroner's inquests are required when a person has died in a custodial setting, like Montana State Prison, but the death was not caused by a diagnosed disease or medical condition. Powell County Attorney Kathryn McEnery presented the evidence to the jury as the county coroner, Heather Gregory, presided over each proceeding. 

Shaun Duncan Morrison, 39, died May 23 at Benefis Healthcare System in Great Falls after disemboweling himself. Morrison, who was found to have self-harm impulses, had continuously reopened an abdomen incision previously made by medical staff when he had swallowed a sharp object, McEnery told the Montana State News Bureau on Friday.

"He had a self inflicted wound that was not intended to be suicidal, however, medical personnel determined that his abdominal wound could not be surgically repaired and he was placed on comfort care," McEnery said in phone interview.

Martin Big Day died on July 1, 2020, at the prison outside of Deer Lodge. Dr. Sunil Prashar, the medical examiner, along with a Department of Corrections investigator and correctional officer, testified Big Day had died of asphyxiation by hanging. 

The jury also heard the case of Presley Shane Mattingly, an inmate who died in Missoula County at age 41. Witnesses, including Prashar, testified that Mattingly died from mixed alcohol poisoning. McEnery said while inmates are known to sometimes ferment food in order to create alcohol while in prison, Mattingly had acquired alcohol from some other source unknown to prison officials; he may have drank paint thinner at the prison's shop. The jury found the death was an accident. 

This was the second such round of inquests held in Powell County this year. In February, a jury found two inmates' deaths were also suicides.

Montana State News Bureau

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