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Thanks for Nothing 

Tragic details of a young man's suicide in a Utah prison cell are brought back to life by his grandma's lawsuit.

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Brock Tucker’s grandmother, Janet Crane, holds up a memento depicting happier times on Monday, Oct. 10. - ENRIQUE LIMÓN
  • Enrique Limón
  • Brock Tucker’s grandmother, Janet Crane, holds up a memento depicting happier times on Monday, Oct. 10.

The send-off for Brock Tucker published on Oct. 3, 2014, in The Salt Lake Tribune told of the 19-year-old's suicide, the attempt by prison guards to revive the young man and a casual listing of the transgressions that landed him behind bars.

Stories like these are commonplace when inmates kill themselves or each other. But in the case of Tucker, who suffered from diminished mental capacity and, as a result, bounced in and out of juvenile facilities and jail since his early teens, the stories that accompanied his death did not venture into the difficult question of exactly how a 19-year-old comes to kill himself in prison.

These details, outlined in a 40-page civil suit filed in 3rd District Court on Oct. 3 by Tucker's grandmother, Janet Crane, are outlined in a string of cold legalese. There is the boy's near drowning at the age of 2, his mother and father's subsequent drug addictions, the custody changes, the alleged physical abuse in juvenile detention facilities, the manipulation by street gangs and his eventual introduction to the Utah prison system at age 17, where he was tried and convicted as an adult in connection with a car theft.

In sum, says former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who filed the lawsuit on Crane's behalf, it's a snapshot of a ruthless prison system that, around every corner, punished and damaged Tucker until he decided to end his life.

"I think it speaks to a society that has rage for punishment; a savage prison system that cares nothing about helping make things any better, and instead, treats people, especially those with mental illnesses, with utter disdain and hatred," Anderson says of Tucker's tragic life and death.

Crane says that she began raising Tucker at age 4, when state child welfare officials removed the boy from the custody of first his mother, and then his father. As she raised Tucker, she says it became apparent that the boy suffered from developmental issues, which she believes, though does not know for certain, could be linked to the near drowning at age 2.

But regardless of what might have caused Tucker's learning disabilities, an insurmountable fact remained: His IQ was tested time and time again at 70, which went some distance at explaining why the boy couldn't learn to spell, acted out and was wildly impressionable, succumbing to impulses and the promptings of whomever he happened to be around.

The real trouble for Tucker, Crane says, started around age 14, the first time he stole a car. Crane remembers the judge asking Tucker what motivated him. Tucker replied, "Oh, judge, I love driving and I'm really good at it," Crane recalls.

"There was no shame," Crane says of her grandson. "All of that was beyond him."

The lawsuit names as defendants several individuals who worked or oversaw juvenile detention and rehabilitation facilities. The suit alleges that Tucker, at several of these facilities, was physically beaten by staff.

As the system itself took its toll on Tucker, his grandmother says she made a decision, one that is a "horror" she'll have to live with for the rest of her life. In order to save up money to buy a home, she moved to the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake where, she says, her impressionable grandson fell in with gangs.

Gang members, Crane says, easily manipulated Tucker into doing whatever it was they wanted—theft being a common crime.

"It might have worked out if Brock hadn't been mentally challenged," she says of the rough neighborhood.

Dr. David Nilsson, a clinical neuropsychologist who first evaluated Tucker as a child and maintained contact until his imprisonment, says he isn't surprised that his patient ended up hanging from his neck in a jail cell. The young man's plight, Nilsson says, is not unlike that of hundreds of young people he's treated.

The problem for Tucker and those like him, Nilsson says, is that as rules are broken and the criminal justice system responds with a heavy hand, people like Tucker do not respond in the manner that they are supposed to. He says Tucker clearly showed signs of suffering from a neurological brain injury—the kind that leads to mood disorders and overstimulation.

The result, Nilsson says, is a person who has a massive handicap when it comes to evaluating appropriate behavior and avoiding dangerous situations.

"Brock is without all the things that you and I enjoy to stay out of harm's way, avoid confrontation, to please teachers, parents, people that we need to please in order to have them help us," Nilsson says.

If Tucker's behavior caused him problems in the world, it most certainly earned him discipline in prison, where, according to the suit, he spent 154 days of one year in an isolation-like cell as punishment for his behavior. This means, Anderson explains, that Tucker was most likely released for only one hour per every 23-hour period.

The boy entered prison without a tattoo on his body, Crane says. His autopsy photos show that when he died, his body was littered with prison tattoos, many of which earned him stints in isolation cells, according to the lawsuit.

A prison spokesman, citing the institution's policies on not commenting on litigation, declined to answer questions about Tucker's case.

As these punishments stacked up for Tucker, Anderson says his mental condition worsened. "The punishments accumulate and it's just this incredibly cruel and uncompassionate response to inmates who are in need of treatment," he says.

Compounding Tucker's problems in prison, Crane says, was that due to disciplinary issues, she and other family members could not visit him as he served his time in the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. Crane even says that some of her letters were returned.

What Crane hopes to gain from the lawsuit are answers to some lingering questions. First off, she'd like to know more about an alleged argument that Tucker had with a prison guard on the night of his death. If any money is won from the suit, she says it will be spent to buy her grandson a gravestone. And lastly, "I just want answers," she says, "I want to know what happened."

In addition to ending his life that evening in October, Tucker also left behind a suicide note that reflected sentiments that, if even a fragment of the allegations in the lawsuit are true, were likely from the bottom of his heart.

"Send my love to my family and my ex'z!," Tucker's note read. "I'm better off gone since I'm already gone! Thanx for nothing!"

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