WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County inmate Timothy Darnell Gilliam Jr. was mad he had to walk up a flight of stairs instead of riding in the elevator at the county prison, which prompted him to start a “heated discussion” with correctional officer Kristopher D. Moules that led to both their deaths, county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said Friday.
“Right before the incident, he was playing basketball and was told he didn’t have permission to take the elevator upstairs, that he had to use the stairs,” Salavantis said of Gilliam after releasing the findings of a criminal investigation conducted by her office and state police.
The investigation left Salavantis convinced that Moules, 25, responded appropriately Monday when Gilliam initiated the verbal complaint because he asked Gilliam to step away from 37 other inmates on the block to attempt to resolve the grievance so the situation would not escalate.
“I think procedurally, he did everything he was supposed to,” Salavantis said.
Moules’ death has been ruled a homicide.
According to details from a joint statement released by Salavantis and county Coroner William Lisman Friday:
Gilliam, 27, and his fellow inmates on the fifth floor of the Water Street prison were fetching their dinner trays from Moules at the cell block door around 5:30 p.m.
When the last tray was handed out, Gilliam approached the cell block door, which had not yet closed and locked, and began a heated discussion with Moules and another corrections officer who was in a locked control room above the cell block floor.
Moules advised Gilliam to exit the cell block, apparently to avoid a confrontation. Gilliam exited into the hallway and initiated a verbal confrontation with Moules and the control room corrections officer.
As the confrontation escalated, the control room officer ordered Gilliam to be handcuffed. As Moules tried to handcuff Gilliam, Gilliam began a physical altercation with him.
The control room officer sounded the “all available guards” alarm and exited the locked control room to assist Moules. As the control room officer began to assist, Gilliam pulled Moules backwards towards the elevator and hit the elevator door.
The door immediately gave way at the base and swung out into the elevator shaft as if hinged on top, even though the elevator is designed with a single door that is only supposed so slide laterally.
The two disappeared into the shaft, with Gilliam still pulling Moules, and the door swung immediately closed behind them.
The control room officer who was attempting to help had to brace himself on the elevator doorway to avoid falling into the shaft himself.
Gilliam and Moules fell 59 feet and 1 inch from the fifth floor to the top of the elevator car, which was stationary on the ground floor.
Lisman determined both men died of multiple traumatic injuries resulting from the fall into the elevator shaft. He ruled Gilliam’s manner of death was accidental.
Moules’ death was ruled a homicide, investigators said, because “although inmate Gilliam did not intend to cause his own death, his actions set in motion a chain of events which led to the death of C.O. Kristopher Moules.”
Officials said Gilliam’s death won’t be investigated further and that the criminal case is now closed.
Following the men’s fall, prison authorities immediately called county 911 and Wilkes-Barre City first responders. City ambulance, police and fire crews were on the scene within about four minutes of the initial call. Both Gilliam and Moules were transported immediately to the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.
Lisman said both men were pronounced dead around 6:10 p.m.
County Manager C. David Pedri has said the elevator had a valid inspection certificate. The state Department of Labor and Industry conducted an inspection of the elevator in April and found only a minor “housekeeping” deficiency that was corrected by staff. An outside contractor also completed a load test of the elevator on July 14.
Pedri said “something happened” that caused the door to open, and the county has retained an expert to identify the problem. He promised to publicly release the expert’s findings and implement any recommended corrective action.
For now, the elevator has been blocked off and shut down. There are two elevators in the facility.
The members of Moules’ family, after meeting with the district attorney and coroner Friday morning, requested that their privacy be respected and the media not attempt to visit or contact them.