An inmate who shot himself outside a southwest Missouri jail on Thursday was being driven in a van operated by Inmate Services Corporation, a private inmate transportation company that's been accused in the past of subjecting inmates to unsafe conditions and abuse.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, the Arkansas-based company has been the subject of at least 15 federal lawsuits. There have also been a number of inmates who escaped from their custody in recent years.
On Thursday, the Greene County Sheriff's Office in Springfield, Missouri, said inmate Dennis Shaner, 50, shot himself in the head while being taken to another southwest Missouri jail.
In a news release posted on Facebook, authorities said it appeared the van pulled up to the Greene County jail and the front passenger, an employee of the transport company, exited the vehicle to walk another inmate into the jail. A handgun was left in the van.
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"(Shaner) convinced the driver for Inmate Services to allow him to step out of the van," the sheriff's office wrote. "Once out of the van, the driver walked around the front of the vehicle at which time Shaner retrieved the unsecured handgun and shot himself."
Shaner died at the scene.
The investigation is ongoing.
The Branson Tri-Lakes News reported the transport company was taking Shaner to the Taney County Jail on a felony warrant. Court records show the Oklahoma man was on supervised probation after pleading guilty to a charge of receiving stolen property in 2012, but the probation was suspended last year after an alleged violation, and a warrant was issued for failure to appear.
The transport company has not commented publicly on the incident.
The News-Leader reported that lawsuits filed against the company include allegations it held inmates in vans for days while traveling across the country, not allowing them a place to sleep, shower or perform basic hygiene tasks, like brushing their teeth. Some inmates said they were also denied their prescription medication and medical attention while they were in custody during these trips.
Michael Dykes had to have both his legs amputated, he told The New York Times, after spending three days in an Inmate Services Corporation vehicle traveling from South Carolina to Missouri in 2012. Dykes, who has diabetes, said he had been in bad health and had sores on his feet, which worsened due to pressure from leg restraints. He alleged the transport employees didn’t provide him medical care.
The company's website says it provides inmates "three meals a day, restroom breaks as needed, showers when necessary, and medical treatment when noted on transport sheet."
The News-Leader also reported that some inmates in custody of the transport company have escaped their vehicles in recent years.
Last August, in Oklahoma, two inmates in a vehicle heading to Kansas overtook two transport employees and stole the vehicle, KOTV reported.
In 2016, an inmate escaped an Inmate Services Corporation van parked at a rest stop in Florida, according to WITI.