Questions asked the day after former trooper's death

BY LEESHA FAULKNER
Daily Journal

A day after a former Mississippi State trooper was found hanging in his cell, officials with the state Department of Corrections launched an investigation to find out what happened.

Paul “Pete” Collins, who on Friday had received a 10-year sentence for fondling a child, hanged himself Sunday afternoon at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility near Pearl. He was 62.

Former corrections commissioner Don Cabana reacted with shock that Collins was not placed under observation for suicide. As warden at the Harrison County Jail, Cabana does that as standard procedure with former law officers.

“We put them in an observation room,” the former Parchman warden said, noting it is not uncommon for former lawmen to expect tough times in prison.

As a state trooper, Collins had received several awards and later became a motivational speaker. He was indicted in 2005, and a mistrial was declared in his first trial in 2006. He was tried again and convicted, resulting in the sentence last week.

He arrived at the Rankin County-based prison at midday Friday and was placed in protective custody, said Tara Booth, a spokeswoman for MDOC.

Former law enforcement officers who are convicted of crimes are automatically placed in protective custody unless they opt out, Booth said. In this case, protective custody means an inmate is placed in a special cell or section for his or her protection.

“He had not even been processed yet,” she noted. “He had not seen any of our case managers.”

Former law enforcement officers usually have a hard time in prison. They often spend their time isolated from other inmates because they made a lot of arrests in their former jobs, Cabana explained. That isolation leads to a dreary existence, especially if someone is serving a long term.

On Sunday, corrections commissioner Chris Epps released a brief statement saying Collins was in the reception and diagnostic unit when he killed himself. He had passed the agency's medical screening.

Booth noted Monday that Collins was not placed on suicide watch. “He'd given us no indication,” she said.

The investigation into his death is standard procedure, she added.

An autopsy was scheduled Monday at the Mississippi State Crime Lab before Collins' body is released to Oliver Funeral Home in Winona. Funeral arrangements were incomplete. The autopsy is standard procedure for any death in the prison system, and foul play is not suspected.

Collins became a captain in the Highway Patrol in 1997 after the Legislature mandated his promotion. He retired the next year after being named Statewide Trooper of the Year.

He became a popular motivational speaker on the dangers of teenagers driving drunk. Collins had a Web site that highlighted his career and advertised his motivational speaking. On Monday, that site had been removed from the Web.

Contact Daily Journal county courts reporter Leesha Faulkner at 678-1590 or leesha.faulkner@djournal.com.