The police are meant to keep the people safe. Even convicted criminals have rights while in police custody. Unfortunately, the stories keep coming.

We hear of deaths in police custody more often than we would like. Every time somebody is beaten to death while handcuffed or commits suicide in a jail cell, concerns have to be raised, law enforcement has to be questioned and answers need to be provided.

Custodial death, while controversial, is a grave and terrifying issue – one that the country has been facing for a long time. Families have had to live with not just the absence of a loved one, but with the thought of knowing that their deaths could have been prevented if not for recklessness, ignorance or intent. They and the people deserve to get answers.

Here are some of the common causes of death of suspects or convicted criminals while in police custody and how they could have been avoided.

  •  Excessive Abuse

A civilian is said to be in police custody as soon as the officer puts the handcuffs on. When such restraints have been put on, it is reasonable to assume that the suspect is no longer a threat to the officer’s life.

Unfortunately, many cases have involved officers who continued to assault a restrained suspect to death using batons, Tasers or guns. Custodial deaths have been known to occur in police vehicles, like in the notable case of Freddie Gray, as well as during interrogation and in prison at the hands of jail guards.

  •  Suicide

Proving liability in the event of a prison suicide is complicated. However, doing so is just as important as in any other case of wrongful death. Such deaths have been known to occur because of mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

If an inmate shows any signs of mental illness or suicidal tendency, they must be placed on a Suicide Watch so that guards check on them more often than other inmates, and the inmates would have no access to objects that could be used in self-harm. Unfortunately, the current rate of suicide in custody only proves that such rules have not been implemented poorly or that better procedures must be in place. 

Suicide can also be attributed to emotional distress and mental anguish caused by physical or verbal abuse suffered while in custody. Jail staff who engage in such abuse may be held liable.

  •  Assault Negligence

Jails are prone to prison fights that could turn deadly if not properly handled by the guards meant to stop them. There have been cases where correctional officers neglected to intervene in a prison fight, thereby allowing the assault and resulting death of an inmate to occur.

  •  Medical Negligence

Inmates or suspects in custody may on occasion require urgent medical care or consultations for any illness or injury that they could be suffering from. Negligent guards who deny or delay treatment could become liable for wrongful death in police custody. For example, an inmate who was denied a medical consultation developed an advanced stage of cancer that could have been prevented if it was caught early. Similarly, when guards withhold medication from a suspect or inmate such as an inhaler or Epinephrine, then resultant death could be considered wrongful in a civil, or even criminal court.

  •  Intoxication and Poisoning

Alcohol and drug intoxication have been other leading causes of death in police custody. In some cases, when people who were arrested on possession charges were also high at the time, they had not received proper medical attention while in custody and suffered an overdose as a result. Similarly, inmates who are dependent on substances and who do not get the care they need when going through withdrawal have also lost their lives.


Prison deaths occur across the United States and is an issue that needs to be dealt with. When negligence or intent leads to the loss of an inmate’s or suspect’s life while in custody, those who were responsible have to be tried for wrongful death.