GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The family of a Michigan man who died of a drug overdose at a state prison has filed a lawsuit saying his death was connected to a drug smuggling ring in the prison.
Seth Zakora, 21, died from an overdose Jan. 22, 2017, in the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan.
Another inmate had asked corrections officers to check on Zakora the night before his death because there appeared to be something wrong with him, according to the lawsuit. The officers allegedly never checked on Zakora.
That morning, Zakora was found dead in his bunk, covered by his bedsheets. His was the third overdose in three days in his prison unit, and the first fatal one.
2 customs agents charged: Record-breaking haul of meth worth $818 million seized in Australia
Ring stemmed from romantic relationship between guard and prisoner
At the time of his death, drugs were "in abundance and being smuggled" into the prison, allegedly orchestrated by a female corrections officer and a prisoner with whom she had a romantic relationship, according to the lawsuit. Another inmate had informed inspectors of the drug smuggling ring on more than one occasion, according to the lawsuit, and gave details of how the drugs were coming in and who provided them.
The inspectors did not investigate the claim, according to the lawsuit. Nor did prison administrators who knew of the overdoses but did not order a full investigation until after Zakora's death, the lawsuit says.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said the department investigates all unexpected deaths but could not release the report from the investigation into Zakora's death because the Internal Affairs file is exempt from disclosure.
Gautz said corrections officers do a great job watching for and stopping contraband from being smuggled into prisons.
"They are trained, along with our medical staff, to assist prisoners who may be overdosing and have saved countless lives because of their diligent work," Gautz said.
The last overdose death at Lakeland was nearly two decades ago, he said. In the past 10 years, 13 people have died from drug overdoses in state prisons.
While in segregation, Zakora told his grandmother that he feared for his life and that drugs were coming in from the outside, according to the lawsuit. He was afraid he wouldn't make it out alive.
When the prison was swept after Zakora's death, a Michigan State Police K9 indicated to its handlers that there were drugs in Zakora's former unit.
The lawsuit says three Michigan State Police troopers were either involved in the drug smuggling ring or covered it up and did not investigate it properly.
Michigan State Police spokeswoman Lori Dougovito said that of the three troopers named in the lawsuit, two retired in good standing and one was still with the department.
Dougovito confirmed police were involved in the investigation into Zakora's death. She declined to comment further about the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges an inmate was charged and convicted of dealing a controlled substance "to avoid an internal investigation of the accusations against the corrections officer involved."
As a part of a plea deal that inmate Kyle Witek agreed to, prosecutors agreed not to charge him with Zakora's death, according to the Coldwater Daily Reporter. Witek had 28 months to 14 years added to his sentence of four years to 22 years for burning property, home invasion and possession of meth.
Zakora was serving a three- to 22-year sentence for sexual assault.
Follow reporter Kara Berg on Twitter @karaberg95.
New Zealand volcano eruption: At least 5 confirmed dead, 'no signs of life' remain on the island, police say
Meet the Harvard grad getting rich off American colleges: He's made millions on college admissions for international students
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Coldwater, Michigan prison drug ring: Lawsuit says it caused a death