MSP investigating prison overdose death during ban on visitors due to coronavirus

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Posted at 7:12 PM, Jul 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-24 19:12:48-04

IONIA, Mich. (WXYZ) — Gerald Comstock was 55-years-old, serving a life sentence in prison for rape when he was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday.

Chris Gautz, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections, said it appears Comstock died from a drug overdose.

"Something just doesn't seem right," Comstock's brother told 7 Action News when we contacted him Friday.

Comstock's brother says he doesn't understand how drugs could get into Michigan Reformatory, a state prison in Ionia since visitors were banned from all prisons in mid-March due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus.

"There's COVID going around. We couldn't even visit my brother at the hospital," said Comstock's brother who did not want his name published. "You're supposed to be a highly secure prison."

According to Gautz, Michigan State Police are now investigating the events surrounding Comstock's death and an internal investigation is also underway.

Gautz said he would hope that prison employees are not involved, and he said it is more likely that the drugs were smuggled in through the mail, thrown over the fence, or dropped in with the use of a drone.

"They don't even allow envelopes with blue ink to come in," said attorney Solomon Radner, who has a lawsuit pending against MDOC officials alleging they are aware of and involved in the smuggling of drugs and covering up of evidence.

"Why don't you try to go stand outside a prison with a drone and see how long you last before you get arrested," Radner said. "If that's what they're claiming here, they're going to have to dig a little bit deeper because I don't think anyone is buying it."

Seth Zakora was an inmate at the MDOC's Lakeland Correctional Facility when he died from a fentanyl overdose in 2017. On behalf of Zakora's family, Radner filed a lawsuit against prison officials including corrections officers in December 2019.

Stated in the lawsuit: "Defendants permitted MDOC corrections officers to bring drugs into MDOC facilities and thereby facilitated illegal drug use and sales in MDOC prisons."

"I can't say that it never happens but our staff are very professional and it's very rare for that to be the cause," Gautz said in defense of their employees.

Now, Comstock's brother said they want to know what investigators are able to determine, particularly since the opportunity for visitors to smuggle drugs in with them was cut when COVID-19 prompted the visitor ban.

"It just doesn't make sense," he said, adding that a prison official told him that drugs have been smuggled in on stamps.

Corrections officers have previously sued the MDOC after they said they were retaliated against for reporting employee involvement in drug smuggling.

"When they go to prison, they're not supposed to be peddled drugs. They're not supposed to end up dead," said Radner, who suggested that the MDOC start a whistleblower hotline for employees to be able to provide without fear of retaliation.

"I know that there are a lot of very good people who work for the MDOC," Radner said. "I know that they feel completely handcuffed because they want to come forward with this information and they can't. You want to come forward with it? Come forward with it."

Gerald Comstock was officially pronounced dead Thursday after five of his organs were removed for donation, his brother told 7 Action News. "It's a tragedy for one family but the gift of life for five other families."