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Lewis and Clark County Detention Center not at fault for in-custody death

Coroner's Inquest
Posted at 6:04 PM, Mar 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-04 12:31:19-05

HELENA — On Friday, a jury found that the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center was not at fault for a death that occurred this past summer.

Since the death occurred in Lewis and Clark County, a coroner from Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, Jessie Billquist-Jette, presided over the case.

At the hearing, the coroner's jury heard that 37-year-old Anthony Simmons died of a drug overdose on the morning of June 7th while he was being held in booking.

Simmons was arrested roughly 24 hours earlier after yelling outside the Law and Justice building.

At the time, he had three active warrants and was said to be hallucinating.

The arresting officer, Deputy Chris Rebo, said, "He referred to the bush as she and said that she had his cellphone and he was trying to get it back."

The jury saw footage of officers patting down Simmons as he was booked.

Officers testified that Simmons had admitted to recently taking drugs.

Detention Officer Payton Carlson said, "He alluded that he took meth and fentanyl three days prior and had not slept since then."

The body cam footage shows the detention center nurse checking vital signs.

Simmons pulse was said to be high, but his blood pressure was within a normal range.

"He kept saying I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine. So, he did not want to go to the hospital," said Trent Baalman, the detention center nurse at that time.

Officers said Simmons was uncooperative, refusing a shower and a change of clothes.

He was placed alone in a booking cell and checked about every half hour by staff.

Questioning in coroner's inquest

A check of Simmons's vital signs just before 7 PM showed improvement.

Detention officers said they continued to check on him overnight and that he was up and down and erratic.

When they did a check on the morning of June 7th, they noticed Simmons was not moving.

Deputy Cody Blackburn was a detention officer at the time, and he was the one who found him.

He said, "I could tell it wasn't good with the way his hands were positioned. His eyes were still partially open. It was concerning to me."

Officers gave Simmons the overdose reversal drug Narcan, administered CPR, and called for medical assistance.

When emergency services arrived, Simmons was determined to be deceased.

An autopsy showed that Simmons overdosed on methamphetamine.

Toxicology showed evidence of other drugs but no fentanyl.

It took the jury about an hour for the majority to agree on the coroner's findings of accidental overdose and determine detention center officers were not at fault.