Byron Looper's family seeks answers after death while in custody - WSMV Channel 4

Byron Looper's family seeks answers after death while in custody

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Byron Looper was found dead inside his prison cell on June 26. Byron Looper was found dead inside his prison cell on June 26.
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The Tennessee Department of Correction says it went to "great lengths" to notify the family of Byron Looper that he had died in custody last week, but Looper's attorney says the family found out only through television news reports.

Looper died June 26 while serving a life sentence for killing his political rival, Tennessee state Sen. Tommy Burks.

"Byron's family only heard about this through the media, while the [Tennessee Bureau of Investigation] was falling all over themselves to get to the senator's family," said attorney McCracken Poston, who is representing Looper's family.

Multiple sources tell Channel 4 News that the day he was found dead, Looper had assaulted a prison counselor and was later taken to an isolation unit called behavioral management.

According to records obtained by Channel 4 News, Looper was found unresponsive in that cell about three hours later.

A spokesperson for the Department of Correction said it tried to notify Looper's family, saying:

"Our department made four or five calls to Mr. Looper's mother immediately. When we were unable to reach her, we contacted the police department in her town in Georgia for assistance in locating her. The police department went to her house."

Prison officials say they also left messages with Looper's brother and informed him of the death when he called back.

Poston said he believes Looper suffered a head injury when guards "took him down" after that assault. The prison record refers to a traumatic injury report, but that has not been released.

It took more than an hour for a nurse to examine the inmate, records show.

Looper's family has apparently requested video of the incident, which has not been released.

Channel 4 News also asked the Department of Correction about those concerns, but officials would only say those points are all part of the TBI investigation.

A preliminary autopsy found Looper died from a "heart event," but his attorney is seeking a second, independent autopsy.

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