MANSFIELD, Ohio — Newly-released body camera footage provides additional context – while at the same time - raises additional questions about the death of an inmate at the Richland Correctional Institution earlier this month.
Jesus Chavez died on Oct. 15 after going into what state prison officials described as “medical distress.” Prior to collapsing, Chavez was being strip searched and suspected of having drugs when corrections officials say he attempted to ingest something and began to choke.
The body camera footage and a subsequent incident report, obtained by 10 Investigates through an open records requests, chronicle the moments as officers begin to conduct the strip search to when Chavez is carted off in a wheelchair.
He was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
An incident report reads: “As inmate Chavez removed his underwear he twirled it in his hand and with his other hand he grabbed a small baggie of an unknown substance.”
The body camera video shows officers attempting to handcuff Chavez in a staff bathroom where the strip search was taking place, when one of the corrections officers can be heard saying “Are you choking? He’s choking.”
The body camera footage also shows corrections officers unsuccessfully attempting to do the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge whatever is obstructed. The efforts don’t work.
One officer can be heard saying “he’s swallowed a baggie of meth and we can’t get it out!”
Chavez eventually collapses as prison personnel continue to assess him. At one moment, an officer asks if he should call EMS. Another says “no, not yet.” That decision is reversed less than a minute later when someone else calls for the squad.
The Mansfield Fire Department says it’s made 84 emergency runs to the prison since January for various reasons.
10 Investigates has asked ODRC whether it is looking into how the situation was handled. A spokeswoman said Friday afternoon she would get back to us.
In the body camera footage, another person off camera can be heard saying he thinks Chavez is having a reaction to meth and that they needed to “get him to medical.”
It’s not clear what prompted corrections officers to suspect Chavez may have had suspected contraband nor is it clear what was recovered.
The Richland County Coroner’s office says it is still waiting on toxicology reports to find out what was in Chavez’s bloodstream.
If drugs are found, it raises additional questions about how drugs entered the prison.
Despite being a secured facility, illegal substances do appear to be available inside this Ohio prison and others.
In a 2020 inspection report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, inmates surveyed at RCI responded that the most available substances were alcohol, suboxone, marijuana, tobacco and heroin. A similar inspection, released last month, shows many of those same substances remain available, according to the report.
Lt. Nathan Dennis with the Ohio State Highway Patrol confirmed his agency is investigating the incident.