Photo courtesy Ed Irizarry
Joseph Murphy, center and kneeling, died while in a holding cell at a correctional facility in Juneau, Alaska. Murphy was being held on non-criminal charges.

'Very, Very Disturbing': Native American Veteran Dies in Police Custody

Simon Moya-Smith

A Native American man died in holding cell in Juneau, Alaska, after prison staff there allegedly told him "You could die right now and I don't care," according to a newly released report reviewing the state's department of corrections.

Joseph Murphy, 49, of the Yup'ik people, was booked at 7 p.m. August 13 for intoxication at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center and was placed in a holding cell for the evening, Lisa Phu of Juneau's KTOO Public Media reported. A video reviewed by the state shows a sober Murphy at 5:20 a.m. the next morning, but he appeared sweaty and and complained of chest pains to jail staff. Murphy allegedly denied medical assistance.

According to the report, Murphy had begun to bang on the cell door when one of the jail staff members responded. Murphy and the guard then engaged in a heated verbal exchange. The staff member allegedly told Murphy "I don't care. You could die right now and I don't care."

Less than 20 minutes later, Murphy is seen pacing the cell; he drops to his knees, pats his chest, falls and dies only 12 hours after being booked, KTOO reported.

Murphy died of an apparent heart attack.

Dean Williams, special assistant to Alaska Governor Bill Walker, watched the footage and said “It’s compelling video, very, very disturbing.”

Murphy should not have been jailed in the first place, according to the report. In accordance with state law, since he was intoxicated, Murphy should have been placed on 12-hour temporary protective custody.

Williams said it makes no sense to jail intoxicated persons.

"Just the whole practice of taking highly intoxicated individuals, some that are detoxing, and placing them in a prison where they are going to receive far less attention is not a good plan," he told KTOO.

Murphy, who was born in Anchorage according to his obituary, was an Iraq veteran who earned the name "Eskimo Joe" while serving.

Mike Mercer, who served with Murphy, told KTOO he learned the basics from Murphy — from marching to shining his shoes. The pair were gunners in the Alaska Army National Guard.

“Murph just worked harder than everybody else it seemed like, just because he was always giving as much as he could give," Mercer told KTOO. "He definitely took care of the guy to his left and to his right. If somebody needed more water, if somebody needed somebody to talk to, if somebody needed some help with anything, Murph was really supportive of people."

Murphy was also a volunteer firefighter and ambulance attendant, his obituary states.

The state report looked into 24 cases resulting in death while in custody. Fifteen people within in the state's correction system have died since Walker took office. Walker called the findings "very disturbing."

"The [cases] that were looked into were not done adequately," Walker said.

Due to the shocking report, Walker announced last month that Department of Corrections Commissioner Ron Taylor tendered his resignation.

The video of Murphy's last moments have not been released to the public.

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Angela Ashley Ramirez
Angela Ashley R...
Submitted by Angela Ashley R... on
Absolutely disgusting! Another example of the abuse of the government's power. They need to be held accountable and be punished!

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I'm just going to say it, Brown Lives Matter! Let me guess, the officers on duty and particularly the officer who told Mr. Murphy that he could die and it wouldn't matter are White, right? Of course we all KNOW that not all White cops are bad, but when are the good cops going to speak up when things like this happen? When things like this are happening all around America it's difficult to have faith that our police are indeed there "to Protect & Serve."

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
This is an obvious problem that Alaskans are aware. As much as Moya-Smith is trying to correlate a race issue (again), other Alaskans (white) are dying as well. Editorial: Alaska's prison system is killing Alaskans Posted: November 18, 2015 - 12:04am