Prison reform means more than overturning sentences and changing laws. It also speaks to the conditions of jails that make it possible for guards to overlook a dead body in a cell for days. 

According to Los Angeles Times, 44-year-old inmate Luis Romero was killed by his cellmate and self-proclaimed Satanist, Jaime Osuna, on March 8, 2019 at California’s Corcoran State Prison. The 31-year-old Osuna reportedly covered the cell door with a white sheet before stabbed Romero to death with a makeshift knife and decapitating the victim. He then made a necklace out of parts of Romero’s dead body and posted the body, slicing Romero’s face to resemble an exaggerated smile. Osuna also covered their cell in blood with a small razor.

Despite the gruesome scene, two officers falsely reported seeing Romero alive on March 9 when they were supposed to be doing their scheduled safety checks. It wasn’t until officers correctly did their job later in the day that they were able to discover Romero’s dismembered body. The guards’ negligence has prompted investigators to file a lawsuit against Corcoran State Prison on behalf of Romero’s family. 

“The department’s handling of the case was poor,” the inspector general’s office said. “In the OIG’s opinion, the special agent continually resisted the recommendations of the department attorney regarding conducting interviews and obtaining evidence.”

The Department of Corrections disputes the investigation’s findings. But according to the Romero family attorney, Justin Sterling, this rebuttal simply demonstrates the “veil of secrecy” that promotes officer misconduct.

“The idea that my client had to sue in order to get basic questions answered about her son’s death is disheartening,” Sterling said.

Romero had served 27 years in prison in prison for second-degree murder and associating with gang members. He was close to parole eligibility at the time of his death. Osuna was serving life for the killing and torture of Yvette Pena in 2011.