Lawrence Phillips: ‘Ex-Rams running back’ dies in prison of suspected suicide

Updated: January 14, 2016
Lawrence Phillips: Ex-Rams running back dies in prison of suspected suicide

Lawrence Philips died after being found unresponsive in a Kern County prison cell early Wednesday morning, and authorities believed he took his own life. He was 40 years old.

Staff at the Kern Valley State Prison in Delano were conducting security checks about 12:05 a.m. when they discovered the former NFL player unresponsive in his cell, according to a news release from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The death is being investigated as a suspected suicide, according to a press release from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

According to Dana Simas, a public information officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Phillips was found unresponsive in his cell at 12:05 by a security guard doing a routine check in the segregation unit. Phillips was alive, Simas said, when he left the prison, and was pronounced dead at 1:27 a.m. at an undisclosed hospital. Simas said Phillips was likely taken to that hospital by ambulance since the prison doesn’t have emergency medical transportation.

Since guards check on inmates through a window into the cell, Simas was asked how the guard knew Phillips was unresponsive and where in the room Phillips was when the guard found him. Citing HIPAA privacy issues, Simas said she couldn’t disclose where Phillips was found until after a coroner’s report.

“The situation we found him in suggests suicide,” Simas said.

Later in the interview, Simas said she didn’t have the information regarding where Phillips was found in the cell.

Kern Valley, along with other California prisons, have “mental health crisis beds,” Simas said, for inmates who express “suicide ideation.” She said the CDCR had no records of Phillips ever being in one of those beds.

Phillips, 40, was possibly facing the death penalty in the alleged 2015 murder of his then-cellmate at Kern Valley. He had been moved to the prison’s segregation unit after 37-year-old Damion Soward was found unresponsive last year in a cell he shared with the former Husker.

Charges were filed against Phillips in September 2015. On Tuesday, a Kern County judge found there was enough evidence to hold Phillips for trial on the murder charge, according to the Bakersfield Californian. Prosecutors argued Phillips strangled his sleeping cellmate in April 2015.

Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he was surprised by the news of Phillips’ suspected suicide. “All his correspondence with me in spite of circumstances have been fairly upbeat,” Osborne said.

“Things weren’t going in a good direction for him. All I can say is I feel very bad,” Osborne said. “I guess we feel like we did what we could for him. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough.”

Tony Zane, Phillips’ high school coach, echoed the sentiment that Phillips seemed to be staying positive. Zane told USA Today on Wednesday that he recently corresponded with his former player, and that a letter he received last month gave no indication that Phillips had suicidal thoughts. “He was talking about the fact that his mom had gotten him an attorney.”

Phillips had been behind bars in California since 2005. His 31-year, four-month sentence was for a variety of convictions, including two incidents of choking and beating an ex-girlfriend in 2005. Officially, Phillips was in prison for “inflicting great bodily injury involving domestic violence, corporal injury to spouse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft.” Phillips was also convicted of driving a car into three teenagers after a pickup football game.

Sportact Editors and Wire Services