PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — A North Carolina family is demanding closure after their loved one died from COVID-19 at the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg.
Family members said that they were not notified of the death of 62-year-old Tommy Sisk, who was serving a 10-year sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, died on Sunday, Oct. 4.
He had been in custody at FCI Petersburg since February of 2019.
Wayne Sisk, Tommy Sisk’s younger brother of five years, says he got an alarming phone call from a family friend on Tuesday, Oct. 13.
“He said ‘hey guys, you know Tommy died?’” Sisk replied, “No.”
His friend had just read a news article.
Sisk found out that his brother had died over a week later.
“They should’ve contacted our family and showed us some respect. We don’t have our brother. We don’t have anything,” Sisk said. “We don’t have our family member.”
The Department of Justice said Sisk had long-term, pre-existing medical conditions, which the CDC lists as risk factors for developing a more severe case of COVID-19.
While suffering from diabetes, Sisk tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 14. He was placed in medical isolation. Sisk was then evaluated by FCI medical staff for shortness of breath and cough on Sept. 23. He was taken to a local hospital where he was placed on a ventilator.
“They should’ve started hunting us then,” Sisk said.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons follows a Death Notification process. Immediately, upon an inmate’s death in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Warden assembles a list of information concerning the deceased inmate. The warden finds the name, register number and date of birth. This information also includes the offense and sentence, date, time, location of death and apparent cause of death. The Warden finds names and addresses of survivors or designees. Investigative steps are assembled if necessary, along with the status of the autopsy request. Notifications are then made.
Afterward, a brief medical summary related to the death is compiled.
The Warden must notify Bureau officials and the time of death determines the specific protocols that must take place. If the death is during the regular workday, the Warden (or designee) telephones the report to the Regional Director immediately. The Warden (or designee) confirms the notification by sending an electronic Report of Incident form (BP-A0583) to the Regional Office, with an information copy to the Correctional Services Administrator, Central Office. If the death is after the regular workday, the Institution Duty Officer reports the death in accordance with the Program Statement Duty Officers.
Correctional Services confirms this notification by sending an electronic Report of Incident form (BP-A0583) to the Regional Office, with an information copy to the Correctional Services Administrator, Central Office. The directors are also notified.
According to protocol, the next-of-kin are then notified of the death. The Warden calls the person named in the Acknowledgment of Inmate form (BP-A0408) to communicate the circumstances surrounding the death. When the inmate has not named a next-of-kin, the unit management staff must attempt to locate and notify the next-of-kin, since only the next-of-kin may determine the disposition of the deceased’s remains and property. The coordinator coordinates the disposition/shipping of the inmate’s remains with the Supervisory Contract Specialist. Letters of Condolence are sent by the Warden. The Warden mails a letter of condolence to the next-of-kin and advises that person of the circumstances of the death. When the Death Certificate is received, the Warden (or designee) sends a copy to the person who received the deceased’s remains.
Sisk said a representative from FCI Petersburg told him his sister was listed and tried to call her. In an attempt to locate the body, Sisk has been calling Virginia lawmakers.
“In this case the bodies not missing. They know where it’s at. They won’t tell anybody,” said Sisk.
He believes the prison should have made a better effort. The Sisk family is from Old Fort, North Carolina, a small town with a population of a little more than 900 people.
“What freed up that information but they couldn’t free up the information to tell his family and notify them before the newspaper,” Sisk said. “During the times that we live in now, with COVID and injustices and everything.. tell me how much injustice is that?”
Tommy Sisk was set to be released in 2021.
In a statement to our sister-station WRIC in Richmond, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said:
“While for privacy reasons we cannot speak about specific circumstances surrounding a particular inmate, we can tell you protocols were followed in the case you reference.”
As of Friday, there are currently 92 positive coronavirus cases at FCI Petersburg Medium. 87 inmates and five staff members have COVID-19.
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