KINGMAN - The Arizona Department of Corrections is investigating the Jan. 19 death of Neil Early, 23, an inmate who was serving his sentence at the Arizona State Prison-Kingman, as a suspected homicide.
Early, who was serving a five-year sentence for repeated shoplifting convictions, was reportedly in a physical altercation three days before he died, according to the department, and was taken to Kingman Regional Medical Center and from there to a Las Vegas hospital, where he died.
"The safety of the staff and inmates at all Arizona prisons is ADC's first priority and criminal assaults are absolutely intolerable," said ADC Director Charles Ryan in a statement.
A source who spoke to the Miner on condition of anonymity because his son is serving time at the prison, said Early was scheduled to be released from prison in late February, and that he owed money to inmates who deal drugs at the prison. Those inmates reportedly warned him not to spend any money at the prison commissary.
Early reportedly ignored the threat and purchased brownies. He was reportedly struck repeatedly in the head and body with a combination lock that was placed into a sock and used as a weapon.
Ryan said the department's Criminal Investigations Unit looks into every inmate death, "no matter the apparent cause. Upon review, if it is apparent that this inmate likely died as the result of injuries he received in a physical altercation with at least one fellow inmate, which would qualify this incident as a suspected homicide."
While the investigation is ongoing, the department intends to ask Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith to prosecute the person or persons responsible "to the fullest extent of the law."
The source said inmates were placed on lockdown after the beating and a subsequent search of cells yielded a large number of drugs, primarily heroin; cell phones, which are also prohibited; and a number of makeshift weapons.
The source also claimed one corrections officer was supervising roughly 200 inmates at the time of the attack, and that the officer had been working 16-hour days for weeks on end due to chronic understaffing.
The man said he hopes Early's death prompts the state to end its relationship with Utah-based Management and Training Corporation, which runs the private and for-profit prison in Golden Valley.
Click for home delivery with comics, grocery deals, inserts, TV listings, coupons and more