The Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) Investigator General (IG) is looking into the Feb. 13 death of a Lawton Correctional Facility (LCF) inmate.
The man’s friends and family are seeking answers after burying him in Minnesota on Friday.
LCF staff found inmate Jerry Cochran, 38, unresponsive just before 5 am. Feb. 13 after his cellmate called staff to the cell, according to Matt Elliott, ODOC information officer. Agents with ODOC’s Inspector General’s office and officers with the Lawton Police Department are investigating the death. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner will determine the cause and manner of death, he said.
Cochran was received on April 25, 2019, at LCT, 8607 SE Flower Mound, according to ODOC records. He was serving a sentence from Canadian County for driving under the influence of liquor or drugs, and possession of controlled substance.
He was laid to rest Friday at Little Falls, Minn., where his parents, Patrick and Wendy Cochran live.
Family friend Dennis Clifton contacted The Constitution to offer the family’s concerns as well as background to Cochran’s situation at the prison while awaiting his scheduled May 1 release date. Although a prison official told the family that his death appeared to be from suicide, it doesn’t make sense, he said.
“Jerry’s parents don’t accept the suicide claim,” Clifton said.
Cochran had requested to be put into solitary confinement until his release date after witnessing the Jan. 17 stabbing death of Brian Piper, 31, according to Clifton.
Staff at the prison called for an ambulance and Lawton police assistance around 5:15 p.m. on the report of a male prisoner who had been stabbed during some sort of altercation, according to emergency radio dispatch communications. Staff performed CPR on Piper until EMTs arrived and transported him to a local hospital.
Piper was pronounced dead at 6:30 p.m. at a local hospital, according to Elliott. His death from multiple stab wounds following an assault was Lawton’s first homicide for 2020.
Detectives from the Lawton Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division were called out to investigate, including looking at any camera surveillance videos that may show the assault.
No new information about the investigation’s status has been released.
The Constitution left a message with LCF’s information officer and is awaiting a reply regarding the two deaths.
Clifton said Cochran shared information with his family shortly before his death. If corroborated, it provides chilling insight into the January death.
“Cochran told his family that during the stabbing, correctional officers did nothing to assist Piper, and waited for him to bleed out before entering the pod and attending to him,” he said. “Cochran was instructed to keep quiet regarding the incident, however he felt telling his family on a recorded line, may help keep him protected until release. He clearly stated that he feared for his safety, hoped his request for solitary would be approved.”
Clifton said Cochran’s call to his sister the day before his death included more concerns for his safety and an eagerness to be moved to solitary.
During that call, Cochran received $300 in prepaid card numbers from his sister, that could be accessed after 1 p.m. Feb. 13, Clifton said. The call ended around 9 p.m. and he was dead before 5 a.m.
“After learning the news, Cochran’s sister checked the status of the funds, and found the money had been accessed sometime after Cochran’s death,” Clifton said.
The Cochran family has been requesting an investigation into his death. Clifton said it’s hoped that exposure through the media will force transparency into the investigation. Right now, everything’s veiled from the investigation, he said. Most agencies won’t release information during an ongoing investigation as part of policy.
“We unfortunately have more questions than answers,” Clifton said. “Why wasn’t Cochran moved to isolation after he requested it? Who accessed Cochran’s funds after his death? Why would he take his own life when he clearly sought to protect himself? What’s his cellmate’s account of events? Did the correctional officers really watch as Piper bled out?”
“The family is understandably confused and concerned, and simply wanting answers to these questions and others,” he said.
Clifton said the family is considering hiring an independent investigator or attorney if needed to help push through to answers. But the costs of bringing Cochran home to be buried have impacted finances.
A GoFundMe campaign has been created to help the family with costs: https://www.gofundme.com/f/1wg71lr4mo?sharetype=teams&member=3711852&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_na+share-sheet&pc_code=ot_co_dashboard_a&rcid=72a52904eeb34144889b83eb2b998813.
Along with being the columnist of Soundemonium Musaic, Scott Rains is also a police, fire, Native Affairs and roller derby reporter for The Lawton Constitution. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.