Cordney Buck, 30

Clayton, Missouri
May 02, 2016

Agencies: St. Louis County Police Department Missouri | St Louis County Justice Center Clayton Missouri

Cause of death: Choking

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Last updated: almost 6 years ago


On May 2, Cordney attended a court hearing where he waived extradition – meaning he agreed to be transferred to Illinois to face charges for the warrant. At approximately 10 a.m. on May 2, a corrections officer brought him back to his cell on the 8th floor, which also includes solitary confinement, said Justice Center Director Herbert Bernsen. Cordney was not in solitary confinement but was alone in the cell, Bernsen said.

Medical examiner Mary Case completed her autopsy report on June 7, she told The American, and declared that it was a “hanging.” The towel cut off the circulation of the blood to the brain, she said.

However, Bernsen told The American that it was not a hanging because there was no place he could have hung the towel – and he was found on the floor. It appeared that he strangled himself with the towel, which all inmates are given, Bernsen said.

“We have taken measures to reduce the possibilities to attach anything to hang,” he said. “We’ve changed all the vents so you cannot fasten anything to them. We’ve removed all the shelves so people can’t hang from shelves.”

The American questioned Case again about her conclusion and she said, “That was not the information I was given.”

She also said that if he strangled himself, there would have been marks on his neck.

“There were no marks,” she said.

Smith of Clayton Police said that the towel was wet, which would have helped him tighten the towel.

“He may have pulled at both ends around his neck,” Smith said.

Christmas said that would be highly unlikely, because Cordney would have passed out before the situation became fatal.

Correction officers who responded stated that the towel around his neck was “difficult to remove,” according to the report.

Case also found small contusions or bruises on the back of his head, as well as on the right temporal lobe, according to the report.

“She believed those contusions may have been the result of [Cordney] falling to the floor and striking his head once he became unconscious from the lack of oxygen circulating to his brain,” the report stated.

Bernsen said there are no video cameras in the area where Cordney was being held, and few cameras in the facility are meant for recording. Most are for security guards to view who is coming into an area before granted permission, he said.

Smith said that there were no inmates who could have seen him because the only way to look into his cell is through a window. Police interviewed one inmate who heard Cordney “making unusual statements” on the way to his court hearing, Smith said, and a corrections officer heard the remarks as well.

According to the report, Cordney did not want to leave his cell for the hearing because he wanted to “speak with God.” He also made statements such as “God is with us” before being placed back in his cell.

Christmas said that those statements could have meant that Cordney simply wanted to pray, not commit suicide.

When he arrived at the Justice Center on April 30, nurses assessed that he did not have a history of mental illness and he refused psychiatric care. He has no history of suicide cautions in his previous incarcerations, the report stated.

Both Smith and Bernsen said they had no knowledge of any altercation between Cordney and the guards.

However, after Cordney’s death, the family received a phone message from an inmate who said that Cordney did have a confrontation with a guard over a cigarette. Christmas said that he has not been able to get in touch with the 20-year-old since he left the message. The message also said that the incident occurred on the fourth floor, and Cordney was then moved to the eighth floor into solitary confinement.

The American also reached out to the man and has not received a response.

Both Smith and Bernsen said that there is no record of Cordney being on the fourth floor. Bernsen said that he was put into a cell on the eighth floor 12 hours after arrived at the justice center and remained there.

However, Christmas asked, “Why would he be sent directly to the 8th floor when he arrived?”