Mother presses Governor Justice for answers regarding son’s death at Southern Regional Jail
BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - Governor Jim Justice’s income tax townhall in Beckley came to an abrupt pause on Thursday when he was questioned by the mother of a man who lost his life at Southern Regional Jail (SRJ).
Quantez Burks of Beckley died within 24 hours of being booked at the facility on March 1, 2022.
A state FOIA response obtained by WVVA News lists the primary cause of the March 1st death as ‘hypertensive cardiovascular disease.’ But in a second, independent autopsy report obtained by WVVA News; other causes are listed as well, including multiple blunt force traumas on the head, neck, and body. Burks was also listed has having broken ribs, numerous contusions and hemorrhages, and fractured wrists in the report.
At the press conference in Beckley, Burks’ mother, Kimberly Burks, asked why Gov. Justice’s office has yet to release the surveillance of the hours leading up to her son’s death.
“I’m not going away. I need answers,” she told the Governor. “I need them now. I have yet to hear from anybody to acknowledge my family.”
Gov. Justice responded “We have investigated and investigated and investigated. We will continue to do whatever we have to do. With what you’re saying, I’ve got to be dead level honest, with some level of smoke, there has to be some level of fire.”
Burks later referenced an investigation by the Dept. of Homeland Security regarding conditions at Southern Regional Jail. State probe into SRJ conditions concludes mistreatment accusations ‘false’ (wvva.com) A leaked internal memo from a correctional officer that included pictures and videos later appeared to punch holes the credibility of that report. See story here: Leaked internal email from Southern Regional Jail shows nearly 40 cells without water in November (wvva.com)
Burks said “the first investigation they told you to do, you said they came back and found nothing wrong.” At that point, Gov. Justice stopped her and said “I said my Homeland Security people reported this back to me.”
Burks’ death was the fourth listed at the facility in 2022. Eight more inmates died within months of his passing, with their cause of deaths ranging from heart attacks to suicide. See report here: W.Va. reports a ten-fold increase in deaths at Southern Regional Jail between 2018-2022 (wvva.com)
Before moving on to other questions, Gov. Justice pledged to continue his quest for answers. “We have people come back and say everything’s fine. We went back and we go again. Well, we’ll continue again until we find the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Raleigh County’s Prosecuting Attorney Ben Hatfield said he referred the Burks case to the Department of Justice last Spring. According to an attorney for the Burks family, as late as August of 2022, federal investigators were still actively looking into the matter.
It was around that same time that Gov. Justice also called in the National Guard to assist with the critically low staff vacancies within the statewide regional jail system. See story here: W.Va. Governor declares State of Emergency over staffing shortages at jails (wvva.com)
This past Monday, the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation also announced efforts to revamp inmate healthcare through a new partnership with Marshall University. Dr. Ayne Amjad was chosen to oversee inmate health moving forward through the creation of a new full-time position. See story here: Dr. Amjad placed over W.Va. inmate health (wvva.com)
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