Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Correctional Officer Charged in Jail Death

A 32-year-old correctional officer has been charged with felony misconduct in public office.

By - Apr 21st, 2023 12:30 pm
Octaviano Juarez-Corro. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office.

Octaviano Juarez-Corro. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office.

A correctional officer working in the Milwaukee County Jail has been criminally charged in the death of 49-year-old Octaviano Juarez-Corro.

Laquisha N. Cowser, 32, has been charged with felony misconduct in office related to the death of Juarez-Corro, who was found unresponsive in his single-occupant cell and later declared dead on Jan. 22. The statute Cowser is alleged to have violated, according to circuit court records, governs falsifying a record, report or statement. If convicted, she could face a $10,000 fine and up to three and a half years in prison.

The criminal complaint against Cowser, a five-year employee of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), alleges that she reported conducting a safety check on Juarez-Corro’s cell when she in fact did not.

Cowser has been relieved of duty without pay pending the outcome of her case.

Juarez-Corro was found in his cell with “no obvious signs of trauma,” according to the sheriff’s department. Jail personnel performed CPR and used a defibrillator until the Milwaukee Fire Department arrived. He was pronounced dead by the fire department staff at 6:45 a.m.

A forensic investigator with the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner then arrived on the scene and discovered “a ligature around the decedent’s neck.” The Medical Examiner’s Office told Urban Milwaukee Friday that the cause of death is still pending.

Juarez-Corro was being held in the jail on a $1.5 million bond facing two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of attempted intentional homicide. The charges stem from a 2006 shooting in South Shore Park when he is alleged to have shot five people killing two and wounding three others. He had been a fugitive since then and was captured by the FBI in Zapopan, Guadalajara, Mexico in February 2022.

There have been two deaths in the county jail so far in 2023, and four deaths in less than 12 months.

The facility has struggled with chronic understaffing and overcrowding. One MCSO commander described conditions as “appalling.” The short staffing has required forced overtime to maintain staff levels in the jail.

“This office holds itself to high standards in its service to Milwaukee County,” Sheriff Denita Ball said in a statement, “and no member of MCSO is exempt from those standards. When a member of this agency is alleged to have broken the law in the performance of their duty, they will be subject to prosecution, and if they are convicted, they will face consequences as determined by a judge or a jury.”

“One death in our custody is one too many,” Ball said. “But we are confident these charges demonstrate the MCSO’s commitment to ensure that an independent investigation was conducted, regardless of the result.”

Criminal Complaint

The criminal complaint alleges that Cowser “falsified a record in a material respect by reporting that she performed her inmate safety checks when she admittedly did not and inmate died in one of the cells she did not check at the Milwaukee County Jail.”

Cowser was working third shift, from 10 p.m. Jan. 21 to 6:30 a.m. Jan 22., and was responsible for safety checks on the pod that housed Juarez-Corro. When he was found unresponsive and believed dead, the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department (WCSD) was called to investigate.

The criminal complaint, filed by a detective with the WCSD, alleges surveillance footage showed Cowser skipping a cell check on Juarez-Corro’s cell, along with two others in the corner of the pod near his. When the deputy asked Cowser if she missed any checks, “Cowser answered ‘I may have, yes.’ [The detective] asked Cowser to be honest and asked if during her shift any of the cells that were in the corner were skipped over, which is where OCJ was housed and Cowser stated ‘yes, but it does not happen every check.’ [The detective] asked Cowser if there was any reason to skip those cells in the corner, and she stated ‘no.'”

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