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DOC quiet after mentally ill inmate dies in cell; family seeks answers

Michelle Theriault Boots
Vernesia Gordon, Davon Mosley's girlfriend and mother of his children, Mosley's mother Lorraine Mosley, and Felicia Washington view the body of Davon Mosley at the Anchorage Funeral Home on Tuesday. Davon Mosley died in the Anchorage jail on April 4.
Bob Hallinen
Lorraine Mosley talks with Investigator III Charles Seidl at the Office of the State Medical Examiner on Tuesday. Mosley's son Davon Mosley died in the Anchorage jail on Friday, April 4. Sitting on the Chair is Vernesia Gordon, Davon Mosley's girlfriend and mother of his children.
Bob Hallinen

First Vernesia Gordon wailed over the father of her children's body in the dim light of the funeral home parlor. And then, gently, she began to search it for answers.

For years before Davon Mosley's death earlier this month inside a cell at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, his family had been telling anyone who would listen that he needed help. Mosley was the son of a barber and a prison nurse. He was born and raised in Bakersfield, in central California. From his early teen years, he suffered the symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to his father, Bruce Mosley.

Sometimes Mosley would be fine -- a friendly, handsome high school football player. At other times, he'd claim he was a demon or a hawk or had been kidnapped by the military, according to his family. For a time, the drug lithium kept him steady, his father said.

But when Mosley turned 18, he stopped taking his medication. There was nothing his parents could do about it.

Bruce and Lorraine Mosley feared that without medication their son would become violent and hurt someone. Within weeks, he did.

Mosley hacked two friends with a machete in an apparent psychotic episode. He was charged, convicted and sentenced to two years in an overcrowded California prison.

His parents took their plight to the Bakersfield Californian newspaper, hoping someone would notice the impossible situation they faced: watching their mentally ill son self-destruct and end up in prison.

"Every door was shut in our face," Lorraine Gordon told a newspaper columnist. "They all said, 'Wait until he does something.' Well, he did something and now there's no help for him."

There had to be a better way than incarceration to treat his mental illness, they said.

A FRESH START

In the midst of all this, Mosley met a buoyant young woman named Vernesia Gordon. The two fell in love. They had a baby together, the boy's face a mirror image of his father's. They named him Davon Junior.

"#Twins," Gordon wrote on her Facebook page.

After serving 14 months at California's Wasco State Prison for the assault, Mosley was paroled. Gordon became pregnant again.

In August 2013, the family traveled to Anchorage to visit Gordon's mother, Khanesia Allen. In violation of Mosley's parole, they decided to stay here.

At first, Alaska seemed to offer a fresh start for Mosley, Vernesia Gordon recalled. He was on medication. Their second son, DavonTae, was born in November. This little round-faced boy looked more like his mother. Davon Junior enrolled in Head Start pre-school. The proud parents posted photos of their son's first day at school. Mosley got a seasonal job at Toys R Us.

But in February, things began to spiral out of control.

Mosley brandished a knife and kicked over a speaker, which hit his toddler son, according to a psychiatric report. Police were called. Mosley was taken to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, where he spent four days.

A mental health evaluation from API said Mosley was "stressed" but not sick enough to stay. So he left.

On March 13, the family was at a Motel 6 in Anchorage. Bruce Mosley says he and his wife were increasingly worried that their son was lapsing into psychosis and would hurt one of their grandchildren. Bruce Mosley called the Anchorage police, hoping they would take Mosley to the psychiatric emergency room or back to API.

After police arrived at the motel, they discovered Mosley's outstanding warrant in California and took him straight to the Anchorage Correctional Complex, Vernesia Gordon said.

SILENCE FROM JAIL

What happened between the time Mosley entered the jail on March 16, according to Department of Corrections records, and his death less than three weeks later is foggy.

Vernesia Gordon says she spoke to him daily until March 23.

"After that I never spoke with Davon again," she said.

"I tried calling him but I could never get to him," said Lorraine Mosely, his soft-spoken but formidable mother.

Alaska Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kaci Schroeder contends that Mosley was allowed visitors. But Gordon says she and her pastor, Michael Sweet of True Vine Ministries, tried again and again to visit the jail but they were told they could not see Mosley.

Gordon said she worried about the silence from jail. She had no idea if Mosley was taking the medications that kept him from being delusional and sometimes violent.

In a phone conversation he'd told her he wasn't taking his medicine -- that he couldn't get it in jail.

Gordon says she was told that charges against Mosley had been dismissed and he was scheduled to be released on April 3. She made plans for his homecoming. But on April 3, she says, jail officials told her it would be one more day.

"They said it was paperwork that was taking extra time," Gordon recounted.

The next day, April 4, Mosley was found dead, alone in a cell, at 1:48 p.m., according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch.

It's not clear whether Mosley should have been in jail on April 4 at all.

Court filings show the state of Alaska's single charge of "fugitive from justice" against Mosley was dropped on March 27.

But officials with the California office in charge of Mosley's parole violation case told the Bakersfield newspaper this week they were still trying to extradite him from Alaska to California. They didn't know Mosley had died until a reporter called them nearly a week later.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Schroeder said Mosley had no release date.

It took nine hours after Mosley was declared dead to notify his parents in Bakersfield, they say. A California sheriff's deputy called Bruce and Lorraine Mosley to tell them the news.

Later that night, Vernesia Gordon took a pregnancy test. She'd had a feeling. It was positive.

"ONGOING INVESTIGATION"

Davon Mosley's family wants to know what happened to him.

How did a 20-year-old with no health problems other than chronic mental illness die alone in jail cell?

What happened to Mosley during those weeks he spent in the Anchorage Jail? Did someone hurt him? Did he hurt himself? If so, why didn't anyone notice until he was dead?

The Alaska Department of Corrections and the Alaska Bureau of Investigation so far have offered no explanation for Mosley's death, saying only that there is an ongoing investigation. They have also declined to provide any details about the time he spent in the jail.

Corrections authorities will not say whether Mosley was isolated in a "segregation unit" of the jail or a special unit for mentally ill prisoners when he died. They will not say when a guard last checked on him, or whether he had suffered injuries that required medical treatment before his death. They will not say whether he was taking medication or if he had been disciplined for behavior problems.

"Once the investigation is complete we may be able to say more, but we just can't get you the requested information right now," wrote Department of Corrections spokeswoman Schroeder.

The Alaska Bureau of Investigation, which is charged with looking into most deaths that happen in state custody, said the same.

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

On Tuesday, five days after Mosley's death, his mother, girlfriend and her mother drove to the state medical examiner's office, in a gleaming new complex in East Anchorage.

A staff member told Lorraine Mosley that official autopsy and toxicology results would take more than a month. That didn't satisfy her.

"I need to know anything you know," Mosley told the staffer.

She was told that initial results pointed to death from "natural causes." An examiner was looking into the possibility that he had suffered gastrointestinal bleeding.

Gordon collapsed in a chair, tears streaming down her cheeks. Until that moment, she'd harbored a small hope that it had all been a case of mistaken identity -- that her partner wasn't really dead and she wouldn't really be raising their children on her own.

Both women reject the idea that Mosley died of natural causes. He had no prior health problems, other than his mental illness, Lorraine Mosley said.

They also believe suicide is an unlikely explanation. Despite his struggles, Mosley never once threatened suicide, his father said. A psychiatric report from less than a month before Mosley died notes that the patient was not suicidal.

Lorriane Mosley works as a certified nursing assistant in a California prison, she said. She knows the regulations governing the medical care of inmates and the monitoring of incarcerated people who suffer from mental illness -- because that's her job.

"It does not add up," Lorraine Mosley said, standing in the parking lot of the Anchorage medical examiner's office.

"If they were watching him, why would he be dead?" Bruce Mosley asked.

Later in the afternoon the women drove around Anchorage tracking down documents and trying to piece together, on their own, what happened in the days and hours before Mosley died.

About 3 p.m., they arrived at the South Anchorage funeral home where his body had been taken. They planned to view it -- to say goodbye -- before his eventual cremation. (He didn't like the idea of being buried, his mother said.)

The women held hands as they walked into the lobby, where acoustic guitar music played on a Pandora station and framed photographs of eagles and snow-draped trees covered the walls.

In a softly lit room of velvet curtains and drapes, they spent time with Mosley's body. Then they invited a Daily News reporter and photographer to join them in the viewing room. They said they wanted to document Mosley's story.

"Maybe if people hear about this it'll pop something, get us some answers," Lorraine Mosley said.

Amid tears, the women looked for clues to explain how and why Mosley died. They delicately lifted his hands and gasped at the fresh gashes they found.

They took iPhone pictures from different angles. They pulled up a blue sheet draped over him enough to see his feet and legs, which also had cuts and abrasions on them.

"He looks beat up," Gordon said.

Allen was on her cellphone. They decided to schedule a second autopsy by a private examiner. It would cost $1,500 and time was of the essence.

All the while, Davon Mosley's mother stayed fixed in a chair, murmuring to her son's body.

"It's OK," she said, stroking his hair. "It's OK. I'm not going to rest until I find out what happened to you."

If anyone knows, it's the Department of Corrections, and officials there still are not answering questions.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com