A CLOSER LOOK: in prison and COVID positive … what happens next?

A Closer Look

Keep me in your thoughts and prayers — Marco

FILE – In this Thursday, April 27, 2017 file photo, a motorist passes by the entrance to the Cummins Unit prison near Varner, Ark. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel, File)

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The last time Cece Tate spoke with her boyfriend was April 10. “I have a temperature … throwing up,” he told her. Tate asked if he was going to the doctor and, according to her, he said, “if they let me.”

Cummins Unit Inmate Derick Coley, 29, was scheduled to go before the prison board in June about getting released, but COVID-19 got to him first. Instead, he will be cremated by the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) as soon as the autopsy is finished.

“Funeral services?” asked Tate. “I have no money, so I’m going to [have to] let the jail cremate him.”

Tate was contacted by the ADC’s Medical Program Manager who gave Tate the details of how Coley died.

“She told me that he [Coley] told the guard he couldn’t breathe … his mouth was real pale,” said Tate. Guards helped get Coley to the Cummins Unit infirmary. “When they got him to the table he passed out. They had masks on and tried to give him CPR,” said Tate sharing information that she was told. “An ambulance was on its way, but he was pronounced dead at 11:30 p.m. [May 2].”

Tate received a phone call from the ADC chaplain at 1:37 a.m. Sunday, May 3. “I was shocked … he told me to calm down.”

Tate had been trying for weeks to reach her boyfriend but said she did not receive return calls from the chaplain. “If I called the infirmary, where I found out he had been, they would tell me he’s fine, but I couldn’t talk with him. They said they had moved him back to his cell.”

Coley’s parents have both passed, “and I met Derick a long time ago, we lived together, we have a daughter who’s eight and he has other extended family, too,” said the Junction City resident. The entire family is in disbelief over what’s happened.

ADC said an autopsy was formally requested on Sunday, May 3 and will be done by the medical examiner at the Arkansas State Crime Lab in Little Rock. The agency has not formally announced if the death was COVID-19 related.

Tate doesn’t understand why an autopsy is being done, “they [ADC] knew he had been sick with the virus.”


A family member of a Cummins Unit inmate found out her father was in the hospital being treated for COVID-19 related symptoms after getting a hand-written letter from him. “We got a letter that was written and mailed by him from the hospital [not the prison].”

His daughter, who is a nurse, said he has since been released from the hospital, but now he does not have access to phone use, so she can’t check on him as often as she would like or vice-versa.

Family message used with permission.

We didn’t know he had been sick.


On a Facebook video Fathers of Faith Founder Thaddeus Hamilton said his friend, who’s been at the Cummins Unit for 20 years, was diagnosed positive for the new coronavirus in mid-April and was returned to his cell.

Fathers of Faith Founder Thaddeus Hamilton. The Little Rock- based organization is anti-violence and at the same time supports justice for everyone — including prisoners. 

“Demarco Raynor was found to be positive on April 18,” said Hamilton. “I got a letter from him [April 22] and he’s saying no one has ever been back to check on him.”


“We need to get him to the hospital,” said Hamilton.

On the video Hamilton continues, “this is an example of how cruel and unusual it can be at the prison. I’ve known him since 1999 and his spirit is so torn down, not because of the virus, but because no one at the prison cares enough to check on him [Raynor].”

Raynor is serving life for the murder of Reginald Parks. He was 21-years-old when he was sentenced in 2000. Supporters of Raynor plan to do a clemency request in a few months and hope he gets released.


  • 1. When an inmate becomes seriously ill, injured, or dies within the unit, the Warden/designee shall be notified by the HSA/designee at the unit where the inmate is housed.
  • 2. The Warden/designee shall notify the Senior/Unit Chaplain immediately, who will be responsible for notifying next of kin. In the event that the Senior/Unit Chaplain is not available, the Warden/designee shall assign an individual to contact the next of kin.
  • 3. The Senior/Unit Chaplain or assigned individual will make every attempt possible to verify next of kin prior to attempting any contact. The emergency contact information can be found on eomis, in the inmate’s official jacket located in the Records office, by checking inmate’s visitation list either on eomis or in the inmate’s official jacket, or having an officer check for names of a possible contact person in the inmate’s personal effects.
  • 4. If no contact can be made using any of the above methods, the chaplain may contact any local police, deputy, sheriff, or state trooper that could be helpful in contacting a relative.

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