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Parents want Vermont to release more info about their son's death in prison

A man and a woman stand on a sidewalk.
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
Tony and Kim Nichols speak to reporters outside the Franklin County criminal courthouse Tuesday. The Nichols say they’re frustrated that the state hasn’t released more information about their son Jeffery’s death at Northwest State Correctional Facility.

Six months after Jeffery Nichols died from an apparent drug overdose at the state prison in St. Albans, his parents say they’re still in the dark about what happened.

Tony Nichols, Jeffery’s father, told reporters on Tuesday that the past six months had been “the worst we’ve ever been through,” and that they were frustrated that state agencies investigating the incident hadn’t released any information.

“We're Vermonters, we expect more from our government,” Nichols said, speaking outside the Franklin County criminal courthouse. “Let us have these reports — unredacted — so that we can understand what's going on.”

The Nichols family told Vermont Public last month about Jeffery, a devoted father and hunting enthusiast who also struggled with opiate use throughout his life. The family said they had a lot of questions about what happened to Jeffery.

“What would help us a lot would be knowing what happened in the last few hours,” Tony Nichols told Vermont Public.

More from Vermont Public: A Vermont family searches for answers after son’s fatal overdose in prison

Vermont State Police, the Department of Corrections and the Defender General’s office are all investigating Jeffery Nichols’ death. All three agencies conduct reviews whenever someone dies in a prison, though those investigations are rarely made public.

State police have forwarded their investigation to the Franklin County state’s attorney’s office for review, according to a VSP spokesperson.

“We're Vermonters, we expect more from our government. Let us have these reports — unredacted — so that we can understand what's going on.”
Tony Nichols

Bram Kranichfeld, Franklin County's state's attorney, said in an email on Tuesday the case “may require additional investigation.”

“We are working diligently with the police to resolve this process in a timely manner. We appreciate the concerns of Mr. Nichols’ family and hope to reach a conclusion soon. We cannot presently release any additional information,” Kranichfeld said in the email.

A DOC spokesperson said on Tuesday that they were waiting for other entities to complete investigations before finalizing the DOC review. Commissioner Nick Deml told Vermont Public last month the agency was developing a process to release death investigations to the public.

Defender General Matt Valerio, in an interview Tuesday, said the Nichols family hasn’t asked to see his office’s report or reached out to talk about it. The family could get access to the investigation if they followed a specific process, Valerio said.

“They would have to open an estate for Mr. Nichols, and get appointed administrator, and then, as the legal representative of the estate, request the report,” Valerio said. “And we’d happily provide it to them. We've done it many times.”

More from Vermont Public: Death at Northwest State Correctional Facility is the 10th fatality at a Vermont prison this year

Jeffery Nichols, 35, died in early September from a fentanyl overdose at Northwest State Correctional Facility. He’d been arrested on a domestic assault charge and was in custody for a day when staff at the prison found him unresponsive in the booking area.

According to the Department of Corrections, staff tried CPR and multiple administrations of Narcan, an overdose reversing drug, but were unable to revive Jeffery. The medical examiner’s office ruled his death an accident caused by intoxication from fentanyl and hydroxyzine.

Jeffery Nichols wasn’t the only person to die from an opioid overdose at Northwest State Correctional Facility last year. Shawn Gardner, 37, died in July after taking a mix of fentanyl, xylazine and cocaine.

Tony Nichols on Tuesday said Franklin County Sen. Robert Norris recently started helping the family push for more information.

Norris, in an interview on Tuesday, said he’d been in touch with leadership at DOC, the Department of Public Safety, and was reaching out to the Franklin County state’s attorney.

“They're just looking for answers at this point in time,” Norris said. “It's a bureaucracy, I mean, it is what it is. We just have to work on expediting the process.”

Kim Nichols, Jeffery’s mother, told reporters on Tuesday she hoped her family’s situation would push legislatures to make changes to Vermont law.

“We need to change something so that an ordinary family would be able to get their information about someone dying in their jails,” she said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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