Prison nurse tells legislators that officials covered up a homicide in 2013

Jessica Jobes, a former nurse at West Tennessee State Penitentiary, told legislators Monday that prison officials covered up a homicide, reports The Tennessean. Correction Commissioner Tony Parker says he will now review circumstances of the investigation of the inmate’s death, reports The Tennessean.

The testimony, deemed “shocking” by one lawmaker, came at a House Government Operations Committee “sunset” hearing on the Department of Correction. The panel heard from several persons critical of prison conditions, most involving Trousdale Correction Center, operated under contract with the state by the private firm CoreCivic.

Parker said the state levied $2.2 million in fines against CoreCivic in March, which followed $322,000 of penalties in late 2017. But West Tennessee State, where the alleged beating death occurred, is operated directly by the state.

After the testimony, the committee voted to renew the department’s operations for two years rather than four years, as in a bill already approved by the Senate (SB1529). That would mean an extra audit of the system.

Her voice shaking, she (Jobes) described in vivid detail what she called the state covering up the death of an inmate in 2013.

“I want you to know that every bit of it happened and I was there to witness it that day,” Jobes told lawmakers.

A Tennessean investigation in 2015 found documentation showing a medical examiner deemed the death of 55-year-old Elbert Thornton as “suspicious, unusual or unnatural.” An autopsy determined at the time of his death, Thornton had broken ribs, a broken collar bone and significant additional trauma including third-degree burns on his genitals.

Jobes said prison officials told employees to downplay what happened.

“If you value your jobs, you’ll shut your mouths,” Jobes said, recounting what she said a prison investigator told her while looking in to Thornton’s death.

At the time, department spokeswoman Neysa Taylor hinted medical issues may have played a role in Thornton’s death and downplayed the results of the autopsy.

“If I had blunt force trauma, you would assume I was beat up. But I could have fallen out of bed,” Taylor said.

Jobes said she spoke with the FBI about her case, and is not sure if the investigation is open. Rep. John Ragan, an Oak Ridge Republican who led the discussion on authorizing the department, cut short lawmaker’s questions of Jobe because he said he didn’t want to jeopardize a federal investigation.

3 Responses to Prison nurse tells legislators that officials covered up a homicide in 2013

  • Tommy Ray McAnally says:

    If,if Haslam would do his JOB and INSPECT THE PRISONS AND FIRE PEOPLE THAT Aren’t DOING THEIR JOB TO STOP THIS type of killing,rioting,drugs,weapons on and on things would STOP, what am I THINKING WE have to sell liquor on SUNDAY.

    • Mildred sims says:

      Tommy Ray McAnally you say fire people when in fact the State can’t hire enough to work as it is.
      They make minimal pay for the dangerous job they do.

    • Diana Page says:

      I am like a broken record on this point: The costly and ineffective American Correctional Association inspections are for PR only. I would love to see a true accounting of the costs of these. The TDOC annual inspections are obviously ineffective. Both rely on “good ol’ boys” who do not want to ding their associates. Surely, there is an effective way to inspect prisons.

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