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Suspected suicide under investigation at state prison

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Montana State Prison

Montana State Prison is facing staffing shortages that affect all corners of the facility, from education to security.

State prison officials are investigating the apparent suicide of a 53-year-old inmate at Montana State Prison.

John Aaron Shurtliff, originally from San Francisco, died on June 5 at Montana State Prison outside of Deer Lodge.

Shurtliff's death certificate lists the cause of death as asphyxia from hanging, with a bed sheet used as a ligature. 

Montana Department of Corrections spokesperson Carolynn Bright said Monday that Shurtliff had been incarcerated at the state prison since May on a felony DUI conviction. 

Powell County Attorney Kathryn McEnery said her office is waiting for the corrections department's investigative report before scheduling a coroner's inquest. 

State law requires the county attorney's office to conduct an inquest when prisoner deaths are accidental, suicidal, homicidal or unknown in nature. 

McEnery said coroner's inquests are still outstanding for two other state prison inmates who died within the last year, Christopher Furlong and Michael George.

Furlong died March 16 of "acute combined methamphetamine and venlafaxine intoxication," according to his death certificate. He was 60.

George died Nov. 26, 2021 of an "anoxic brain injury" and "cardiopulmonary arrest of unknown etiology." He was found unresponsive in his prison cell after passing out, according to the death certificate. McEnergy said the county coroner ruled George's death was undeterminable; that he did not have an obvious disease or evidence of a suicide. He was 55.

Eight state prison inmates have died so far this year, according to the department's Deaths in Custody report.

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