Inmate’s death leaves many questions

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 11, 2004

By LEONARD GRAY – Managing Editor

HAHNVILLE – An inmate at the Nelson Coleman Correctional Center near Killona died April 26, leaving questions behind, such as claims by other inmates she died as a result of physical abuse.

“We do have an ongoing internal investigation, but she surely didn’t die as a result of a beating,” Maj. Sam Zinna, chief of investigations, continued.

Denise London McKenzie, 44, died of natural causes, according to the official autopsy report, said Maj. Sam Zinna of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Zinna continued that McKenzie, of 802 Paul Fredrick St. In Luling, was in custody on charges of aggravated battery and domestic violence, according to the March 29 warrant.

Her medical problems began, Zinna said, on April 25 when at 6:30 p.m., fellow inmates in the female portion of the jail alerted guards as to her situation. She had been suffering from a massive headache and a nosebleed, Zinna said.

As the roving nurse checked on her a few times, she was taken to the inmate booking of the correction center at about 7 p.m. and occasionally checked for vital signs.

However, as it appeared, McKenzie was not improving, so an ambulance crew from St. Charles Parish Hospital was called at 10:56 p.m. and arrived at 11:27 p.m. They departed for the hospital in Luling at 11:40 p.m. and arrived there at about midnight.

At the hospital, further examination determined she had sustained an aneurysm in her brain, a popped blood vessel. From that, it was decided to transfer her to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, arriving there at 1:25 a.m.

By 3 a.m., McKenzie was pronounced brain dead, her body on sustaining life support, as she was an organ donor.

According to Zinna, several recently-released inmates have reportedly contacted her family and made allegations of physical abuse against McKenzie. Also, the family claimed she had departed for the hospital at 10:40 p.m., but arrived there at midnight – an extra hour unaccounted for, Zinna said.

“Now, the inmates are changing their stories, somewhat,” Zinna added.

McKenzie had been in custody, based on a Feb. 21 incident, where she had been in an argument with a boyfriend in the 800 block of Paul Fredrick Street. During the argument, according to the warrant issued by 29th Judicial District Judge Kirk Granier, she struck him in the head with an object picked up from the ground.

The April 28 autopsy did determine there had been bleeding in the skull, but not associated with an aneurysm. “She died of natural causes,” Zinna said.