Brenda Todd's Death: Did Arizona Department of Corrections Personnel Ignore Her Cries for Help?
Arizona prison inmate Brenda Todd, who died in ADC custody January 21
Like most death announcements from the Arizona Department of Corrections, the one for Brenda Todd, who died January 21 in custody at Goodyear's Perryville Prison, is spare and unemotional.
It relates that Todd, 44, was found unresponsive in her cell, that medical responders attempted to revive her, but were unsuccessful, and she was pronounced dead. It also indicates that her death is "under investigation" by ADC.
Since Todd's death, I've been in touch with several individuals who claim Todd pleaded for medical attention days before she was found dead, and that she even banged on the wall or door of her cell the night before her demise, asking for help.
Todd was doing 2.5 years for an aggravated DUI out of Pinal County. She was housed in Perryville's minimum security Santa Maria Unit.
One of her fellow prisoners at Santa Maria Unit was Leona Nieves, who met Todd while Nieves was doing a ten day stint for aggravated DUI.
Nieves, who was given supervised release on Sunday, January 23, remembers Todd complaining about chest and neck pains during the two or three days before her death. She also believes Todd was on medication for asthma.
On the yard, Todd would tell anyone who would listen of her ailments.
"She's like, `I'm having trouble breathing, I have chest pains, the back of my neck hurts,' Nieves recalled Todd telling her. "A lot of times, she would go to lay down, because she just didn't feel good. But...even that wasn't making her feel comfortable."
Nieves said Todd informed prison staff of her symptoms, and she was told to fill out the paperwork to see a doctor. Nieves said she believes Todd was supposed to see a doctor the day of her death.
This next part, Nieves did not hear directly, but only discovered second hand from other prisoners. However, I've also gotten reports second-hand repeating this charge from relatives of prisoners at Santa Maria Unit and from local prison rights activists.
"The girls were saying they could hear [Todd] pounding, asking for help," said Nieves of the hours before Todd was discovered dead. "That's when they overheard [a corrections officer] saying, `Go lay down, sleep it off.'"
If true, Todd's death could be eerily reminiscent in some ways of the infamous 2009 death of Marcia Powell, a Perryville prisoner left for four hours in a human cage in the blazing Arizona sun. Some witnesses said Powell pleaded for water but was rebuffed by corrections officers.
In the fallout from Powell's death, reforms were implemented by ADC, at least 16 ADC employees were either sanctioned or fired, and ADC ultimately submitted a more than 3,000 page report to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, seeking indictments.
However, last year, the MCAO declined to prosecute any of those involved due to what it called "insufficient evidence."
Next of kin was located for Powell, her adoptive mother, but she declined to get involved.
Sure, Todd's death doesn't involve an outside enclosure. But the statements of Nieves and others raise serious concerns about how prison staff respond to inmates' basic needs, such as medical.
Todd was apparently a low-maintenance inmate, with absolutely zero disciplinary write-ups.
ADC spokesperson Bill Lamoreaux declined to comment on the allegations regarding Todd pending the outcome of ADC's investigation.
I also talked with ADC spokesman Barrett Marson, who explained that ADC will not be able to complete its investigation until the county medical examiner's report is in, and ADC will have no comment on the death until that time.
More as I get it...
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.