LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- Metro police are changing their policy for handling the deaths of inmates at the county jail. The department's announcement comes just days after two inmates collapsed and died.
From now on, the Metro police department force investigation team will investigate all inmate deaths even if the inmate had no contact with an officer.
“When someone dies in our custody we take it seriously, and we want to make sure that there was nothing or what was done to prevent if we could’ve prevented or was it just a natural incident,” said Lt. Robert Plummer who oversees the eight-member investigation team.
Plummer said the team was formed last month on a recommendation from the federal Department of Justice. Before the policy change, Plummer says inmate deaths were investigated by a unit at the jail or Metro’s homicide detectives.
“We wanted to lessen some of the burden that homicide detectives,” Plummer said.
The investigation team is the same unit that investigates officer-involved shootings and use of force incidents within Metro.
“It’s all Metro, so it's still Metro investigating metro,” said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for Nevada’s American Civil Liberties Union.
Lichtenstein says he's critical about the department’s ability to conduct an unbiased investigation of its own officers, and has suggested civilian involvement in the process.
“It's at least not a unit in the jail looking at officers in the jail, so there's a little bit of separation,” Lichtenstein said.
Metro's policy change comes after the death of 57-year-old John Hammel who was arrested last month for indecent exposure. Both he and another inmate collapsed and died in separate incidents last weekend.
The coroner’s office is working to determine a cause and manner of death in both cases.