LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer says he's working to see if there's a pattern to the recent string of inmate deaths connected to the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC).
Most recently, 66-year-old Keith Smith was found unresponsive in the medical housing unit of LMDC on Sunday morning, and he later died in the hospital that day.
Smith marks the fifth person to die in custody of Metro Corrections in just under six weeks time, dating back to late November.
"It's very concerning," Mayor Fischer said.
Mayor Fischer says Louisville's jail typically averages a little more than three inmate deaths in a whole year's time, making this rate a significant uptick.
He says he's pushing LMPD's Public Integrity Unit to accelerate their investigation into each case in order to see if there are patterns to act upon.
"So the question is: Is something unusual happening right now or is this just really tragic timing that's coming here," Mayor Fischer said.
So far, two of the last five inmate deaths are confirmed suicides by the Coroner's Office. One of the cases is already being investigated by the FBI.
A former 5-year LMDC officer we spoke to, who wanted to remain anonymous, tells WHAS 11 inmate deaths by suicide are a direct consequence to a major shortage of necessary workers on the ground.
"There’s just not enough eyes, there's not enough bodies to make sure everything's still running smoothly, to be able to catch these emergencies quickly [in order] to be able to perform life-saving measures," she said. "If you can't go in and talk with your inmates and be able to take care of your dorms because there is only one or two of you, then it's harder to catch things before they get that far."
The Metro Corrections Union cites more than 150 staff vacancies, with many corrections officers saying bad work conditions are making people quit. The FOP last rejected a proposed contract by the Mayor's Office that would have boosted pay by eight percent.
Mayor Fischer says he expects further progress on talks for a new deal by the end of the week.
Mayor Fischer also addressed questions whether the latest inmate death came as a consequence to poor staffing. He implied it didn't, saying Smith was booked and moved straight to the medical floor last week, which he says is adequately staffed.
We reached out to the Chief Deputy Coroner for updates on Smith's cause of death. To this point, the office says closest relatives haven’t been notified yet and autopsy results are still pending.