Autopsy conducted on inmate who died in heat - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Autopsy conducted on inmate who died in heat

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Posted: Friday, May 22, 2009 5:19 pm | Updated: 12:57 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

 An autopsy was done Friday on the body of a female state prison inmate who died after spending nearly four hours in the Arizona heat.

Officials with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office said results of the autopsy won't be available for 45 to 90 days.

Marcia Powell died early Wednesday morning, about 10 hours after she collapsed in an outdoor, unshaded holding cell at the Perryville prison in Goodyear.

Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan said the 48-year-old Powell was left in the cell nearly twice as long as she should have under department policy. He placed three officers on administrative leave pending a criminal investigation.

Ryan said Powell's cell was 20 yards from a staffed control room from where corrections officers should have been watching her.

Powell was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution. Phoenix police arrested her in June 2008 after she made an agreement with an undercover offer to engage in sexual activity in exchange for drugs, court records show.

The records paint a picture of Powell as a troubled, mentally ill woman who struggled on the streets of Phoenix from a young age.

Powell had a decades-long criminal history, including convictions for prostitution, drug possession and assault, according to court documents.

Records show that she had a ninth grade education and had worked as a telemarketer. She left home at age 15 and became homeless after she was unable to get a job.

Powell was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was on a medication used to treat schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses, according to the records.

The circumstances that led to Powell's death brought criticism from a state lawmaker and a human rights advocate.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, called the inmate's treatment "inhumane" and said she wanted a review of the policy of using outdoor holding cells.

"I think this would be an appropriate time to review that policy to see if it's a good idea to use them at all," she said. "My initial inclination would be to question it."

In a statement, prisons director Ryan said the ongoing investigation will look at current policies.

"The purpose of the investigation is to remedy any shortcomings or failures," Ryan said. "If the policy warrants revision, the investigation will bear that out."

Elizabeth Alexander, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said there have been a handful of heat-related inmate deaths in recent years.

"If this wasn't shaded, and it was Arizona in the summer, that's extraordinarily dangerous," Alexander said. "It's rather surprising to me that no one thought about the risk from this situation, given that this is Arizona."

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