ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A Mat-Su father continues his wrongful death lawsuit against the state, seeking compensation after his daughter died from heroin withdrawals behind bars.
In Jan. 2016, police arrested Kellsie Green, 24, for failing to perform community service. Her father, John Green, called the police on her, hoping he could save his daughter’s life from her heroin addiction if she was in jail.
Five days after entering the Anchorage Correctional Complex, Kellsie Green died from what some refer to as being "dope sick."
Following Kellsie’s death, an investigation, lead by Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, determined no criminal liability on the part of the correctional officers.
“Based on our review of the investigation, it was determined that the corrections’ personnel followed their then-existing medical protocol and as such, their actions did not give rise to criminal liability,” wrote the Office of Special Prosecutions.
The determination wasn't enough to bring closure to Green.
“We wanted to know why Kellsie died. We wanted to know how that happened,” said Green. “In order to get that information, I mean even with having an attorney, it's taken more than a year to find out as much as we knew over a year ago.”
After Green filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against the state, his attorney requested the surveillance footage of Kellsie Green’s five days alive behind bars. But what was released to Green, only raised more questions.
According to the state, the DOC saved about 45 minutes from one camera when she entered the facility, as well as about a day and a half of footage from a camera angle just before her death.
Green said, the footage released doesn’t tell the full story, and wants to know about the more than three and a half days of the video from all other surveillance cameras, that the state said, was recorded-over because it wasn't relevant to her death investigation
“When I found out that they didn't feel like her treatment is relevant to the case, and they chose to tape over it and didn’t think it was important to show, if that video identifies individuals or actions or policies that lead to my daughter’s death, isn't it damn convenient that it was destroyed,” said Green.
Green and his attorney are seeking depositions from those most knowledgeable about the surveillance file system, to find out if the video can be recovered and who made the decision to delete days worth of footage.
“I believe it's important not just for this family, but the Department of Corrections,” said Green’s attorney Jason Skala. “They should want to see if there were mistakes what were they made so they're not made again.”
Since Kellsie Green's death, the Department of Corrections commissioner said there’s been significant changes from within Alaska’s prison system.
“I've asked very early in my tenure to look at how we're detoxing, and how we're dealing with protocols,” said Commissioner Dean Williams, who said in the past 15 months his team updated about 100 existing DOC protocols.
Commissioner Williams was appointed to his position about a month after Kellsie Green's death. He said in previous interviews, her passing in state custody was the last straw for him to take the job.
“I'm not going to comment about any of the things regarding that incident because it would be inappropriate since it's in litigation,” said Williams. “The reason why I'm in this job to be quite frank is because I care a great deal about the condition of confinement in our prison system.”
A now retired lieutenant correctional officer, who said she tended to Kellsie Green in her final days, also confirmed that protocol in dealing with "dope sick" inmates has improved since Green’s death.
“Things have improved immensely,” said Lt. Rebecca Cowart-Wilkerson. “Medical and the administration, we know have weekly safety meetings where we discuss these kind of issues. There's a detox protocol, there was a detox protocol in place previously, but it has been solidified, and it has become very, very common. But previous to that, it was a little bit, medical was running it, it was a little bit haphazard to be quite frank with you.”
Commissioner Williams said he's confident the corrections system is not only better in dealing with inmates recovering from heroin, but also performing more internal oversight through an independent investigation team launched last year, called the professional conduct unit.
“I have given broad authority to our professional conduct unit to save whatever evidence in any case they think is relevant,” said Williams
As for Green, he approves the direction the commissioner is taking the prison system, but a brighter future for the DOC is not enough to console a father, who said he still feels the pain of his daughter’s sudden death.
“I have a huge amount of respect for Dean Williams who has tried to make the changes necessary in the jails. Having said that, I think that the jails still have the responsibility for being accountable for the things they have done wrong in the past that have cost lives,” said Green.