Mother desperate to discover circumstances of daughter's death: Is police misconduct involved?
Since her daughter Samantha died in April 2011, Dell Sutton has been tormented by questions about the circumstances of the young woman's death. In the seemingly unending work to get access to official documents about the incident, each hard-won new piece of information seems to bring up more questions and inconsistencies in the official story.
Samantha Sutton (Sam) was 22 and in trouble. She was addicted to heroin and involved, her mother suspected, with criminal men who had been exploiting her. Dell started to gain hope for her daughter when Sam went into drug rehabilitation, especially once she had been clean for 10 months. Sam was facing 12 years in prison for drug-related felonies, but through a drug court program she made a deal that if completed rehab, her felonies would be dismissed. But Sam escaped from the rehab facility with her boyfriend Kevin Griffin, who was in his 30's. Thirteen days later, she was dead in his apartment.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab ruled the death as an accidental drug overdose, and no arrests were ever made. But official documents conflict with themselves and each other about what happened. For example, various sheets of paperwork from the hospital, coroner, and EMS service list different times of death, and there are differing reports about which of the drugs found in Sam's system could have killed her.
The morning Samantha was found dead, Deputies Young and Lawrence from Carroll County Sheriff's Department spoke to witnesses and later filed official reports. According to one incident report, Griffin told deputies that on the night of April 29, 2011, at about 10:00, he had taken Sam to buy drugs in the parking lot of a Chik-Fil-A and that she shot up $50 worth of heroin in his car. She "passed out" on the bed about an hour later, still breathing. Griffin told another deputy that it had been around midnight, and he told the 911 operator that it had been midnight or 1:00.
Griffin told deputies that when he woke up the next morning at 10:30, Sam was dead in the bed next to him.
He called 911 at 11:05; no explanation was made about what happened in the intervening 35 minutes, and Dell Sutton has never been privy to any accusations against Griffn for failing to help Sam during that time. Nor has Griffin ever been charged with any crime for driving Sam to buy the drugs that killed her.
According to Dell, the Coroner Sammy Eady told her about a 25-minute phone call Griffin made to the Carroll County Sheriff's Department before calling 911 that morning. The sheriff's department has not acknowledged the call and Sutton can get no further confirmation of or information about the call or the content of the conversation.
On the morning of April 30, after EMS took Sam's body out of Griffin's bedroom, Griffin rearranged the room. He told Deputy Lawrence that he had not moved anything around, but when the deputy told Griffin that EMS had said otherwise, Griffin admitted "that he did move the bed around and straighten things up." Also, the first responders with the fire department noticed a rag tied to sam's arm that was gone by the time Deputy Steven Young got there. The deputy searched the room but the rag was never located. Griffin was never charged with a crime for lying to deputies or destroying evidence.
Griffin also told Young that Sam had a warrant out for her arrest because she had left court-ordered rehab three weeks prior. Griffin was never charged with a crime for harboring a fugitive.
Lawrence asked Griffin to meet him at the station for more questioning. At first he agreed but later spoke to his attorney who advised him not to talk any further.
Deputy Young also spoke to Mike Greene, Griffin's roommate, who said he had gone to bed after Sam and Griffin did. Greene had had four guests over that night but the sheriff's department never got statements from them, as far as Dell Sutton can tell. So there are no accounts to back up or conflict with Griffin's statements about Sam stumbling around before going to sleep, or even that they had gone anywhere and come back.
The sheriff's department also apparently made no attempt to find the drug dealer Griffin says sold Sam the heroin. Among Sam's effects was a cell phone, but the available police reports make no mention of them inspecting it for phone calls from that night. The phone was given to Sam's father, although it should have been treated as evidence in a death under "suspicious and unusual" circumstances (as it was listed according to hospital paperwork). There is also no available record of deputies asking Griffin who the dealer was or for any other information on him. If anyone else knows who the dealer in the Chik-Fil-A parking lot is, or if Chik-Fil-A has security footage or witnesses, there is no mention of it in any police reports made available. Law enforcement never searched the car in which Sam allegedly shot up.
Why did the sheriff's department do so little to follow up after the death of a young woman? Why was Griffin not charged for any of the crimes that he admitted to deputies that he committed, or for the foul play that those crimes suggest he might have been involved in? Is this a matter of shoddy police work, or does Griffin have some connection to the sheriff's department that caused them to protect him? Dell believes that Griffin worked as an informant for law enforcement and that he was too valuable to prosecute. She says she had heard from Sam before her death that Griffin was friends with sheriff's deputies and they would drink and party together. According to Dell, Griffin's brother works for the city and has a baby with Susan Alexander, the coordinator of Carroll County drug court, the same program Sam had been in rehab for. Dell also heard from several people that Griffin would make deals with law enforcement, trading information on other people to get himself out of trouble.
Dell's mind is awash with questions, and she is deeply confused by the conflicting information in official reports. At worst she fears that Griffin intentionally killed Sam because she had been reporting the county. (While Sam had been in jail she had been writing to various civil rights and legal organizations reporting mistreatment in jail such as not being allowed outside and being held illegally for six months. She had a civil rights attorney ready to bring lawsuits against Carroll County jail). At best, Dell believes the law was violated in more minor ways, for example by removing the body before the coroner came out to investigate the scene--and the fact that no coroner ever did come to the scene.
One of the most burning questions in Dell's mind revolves around the question of whether Sam was really dead the morning of the 30th, or whether she could have been revived.
Dell says that Chief medical examiner for the GBI, Dr. Sperry, told her that Sam would have died within three to four minutes of taking the shot. Dell wonders if Sam was really walking around one to three hours after shooting up on the night of the 29th, or if she survived the night and then shot up the next morning. If the latter, she wonders if her daughter could have been saved if she had been given treatment such as naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of opiates including heroin.
On the recording of Griffin's 911 call, as the dispatcher is talking him through how to perform CPR, noises that sound like labored breathing can be heard after Griffin gives Sam rescue breaths. The dispatcher repeatedly asks him whether those sounds are Sam, and each time he confirms that they are. It is not clear from the sound recordings whether Sam is inhaling and exhaling, or whether the air that Griffin breathed into her was merely coming back out. (Listen to the 911 call)
Reports conflict on whether Sam's body was cold in the morning: Griffin said that it was, but the first responders said that it was not, and started CPR. Paramedics who arrived next said her body was cold and they called a doctor, who advised them to stop CPR. They transported the body to the hospital.
Dell has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to review the case, because she is concerned that if there is corruption in the Carroll County Sheriff's Department, deputies may cover for their cronies in the department. But she says she was told by Agent Mayes of the GBI that they cannot give her any information or look into the case without the request of the Carroll Sheriff's Department.
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