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‘My son is dead’: Mother awaits court ruling, justice four years after son’s death in NC prison

WBTV Investigates: She says son died after staff didn’t give him medication for seizure disorder
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 5:19 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - A Cleveland County mother is still searching for answers and accountability in her son’s death, more than four years after he died.

Her son was in prison at Butner Federal Prison in northern North Carolina.

Tamarquis Phillips was sent to Butner specifically because he required advanced medical care for his seizure disorder.

Despite that, he was not given his seizure medication for four days after he arrived. He died of a seizure on the fifth day in May of 2017.

His mother, Robin Phillips, filed a lawsuit seeking to hold the prison and staff accountable.

More: Four inmates at N.C. federal prison die of coronavirus within three days

‘My son is dead’: Mother awaits court ruling, justice four years after son’s death in NC prison
‘My son is dead’: Mother awaits court ruling, justice four years after son’s death in NC prison(WBTV)

Robin Phillips told WBTV Chief Investigator Nick Ochsner that her years-long quest to get justice in her son’s death has faced countless delays even though she says his cause of death is clear.

“When the chaplain called me, the chaplain called me and told me that, ‘this Miss Phillips?’” Robin Phillips said. “I say, ‘yes it is’ and they said that, ‘I’m sorry to tell you that we found your son unresponsive.’ The first thing that I said was, ‘did he have a seizure? Did he take his medication?’ He said, ‘we don’t know.’”

‘My son is dead’: Mother awaits court ruling, justice four years after son’s death in NC prison
‘My son is dead’: Mother awaits court ruling, justice four years after son’s death in NC prison(WBTV)

Tamarquis Phillips had a seizure disorder, resulting from a bad car wreck years ago.

He was ordered to serve a federal prison sentence on drug charges at Butner specifically because of its medical facilities.

However, a lawsuit filed on Phillips’ behalf in federal court claims the staff at Butner failed to give Tamarquis Phillips his medication when he arrived.

“He didn’t have it on the 16th. He didn’t get it on the 17th and he didn’t get on the 18th and he didn’t get on the 19th,” Robin Phillips told WBTV Investigates. “And on the 20th of May, they found my son dead.”

Phillips’ cause of death is listed as a seizure.

The lawsuit says that prison staff falsely listed the death as “natural causes” in internal prison records about the incident.

Butner is the same prison where four employees were indicted last year for making false statements in three other unrelated inmate deaths, and where a federal class-action lawsuit was filed last year challenging the prison’s mishandling of COVID-19 that led to inmate deaths.

“And so your son’s death could have been prevented?” Ochsner asked.

“It could have been,” Robin said. “It was told to me, from fellow inmates, that he was asking the guards that he needed his medication.”

In an email, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.

Meanwhile, Robin Phillips will continue to wait, in hopes that a judge will finally rule in her lawsuit - the only avenue she has to get justice in her son’s death.

“They’re still living and my son is gone, and these people that didn’t handle my son fairly, they children are still alive,” Robin Phillips said. “My son is dead. They have their children.”

If you have a tip or complaint that you want WBTV to investigate, email our team at investigates@wbtv.com.

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