Murder of Prisoner in Tennessee Jail
by Matthew T. Clarke
Four male CCA Guards have been placed on paid administrative leave following their murder of a female prisoner at the CCA-run Metro-Davidson County Detention Center (MDCD) in Nashville, Tennessee.
Estelle Richardson, 34, a prisoner in MDCD, was found on the floor of her cell by emergency personnel responding to a call placed at 5:37 a.m. on July 5, 2004, saying that a female prisoner was injured and needed medical help. Richardson had been in an altercation with a guard or guards in her isolation cell the previous morning. Richardson's death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy revealed that she died from blunt trauma" to the head which caused a skull fracture and had also suffered internal injuries. Richardson had been indicted for the non-violent offense of food stamp fraud and was charged with probation violation.
CCA placed guards Joshua D. Stockman, 23; Keith Andre Hendricks, 35; William Wood, 26; and Jeremy Nesse, 24, on paid administrative leave after the ruling. Stockman, who had been with CCA a little more than a year, has studied martial arts and had previous employment as a club bouncer. Hendricks is a senior prison guard who has worked for CCA since October 2000. Wood served in the Marine Corps. He and Neese had worked at the CCA jail since February, 200l. Two of the four guards had been working double shifts due to a severe staff shortage at the time of the murder.
In a typical attempt to blame the victim, CCA released information that Richardson had a history of fights with other prisoners. This included an incident on March 30, 2004, and another on April 5, 2004, in which a guard described that Richardson dropped to the floor and started shaking in what appeared to be a seizure" after the guard sounded the alarm. Sometime in April, Richardson is alleged to have ripped off a sprinkler head that was in her cell, causing a flood. On June 29, five days before her death, Richardson is reported to have asked a guard, Can you get the nurse down here? I am hurting, and if you don't get the nurse down here I am going to die." Nothing in the record shows whether she was seen by medical personnel at that time.
This may explain Richardson's presence in a solitary cell when she died, but it does nothing to explain her murder. She may well have been a difficult prisoner to handle, but that does not give guards the right to beat her to death. And she was savagely beaten according to a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Richardson's 14-year-old daughter, Saviyance Beck, and 6-year-old son Savion Richardson. Richardson was the only prisoner in her cell at the time of the beating. That leaves only CCA employees as suspects in the murder. The suit seeks $60 million in compensatory and punitive damages, accusing CCA of negligence by failing to provide sufficient training and supervision of its guards. Bart Durham, the children's attorney, said he looked forward to having the injustice addressed in court. The suit also alleges excessive use of force.
There needs to be some well-defined boundaries between the guards and an inmate," said Durham in a. July 29, 2004, interview. That is not happening yet. Maybe the only thing that will make it happen is a hammer from a judge, or a jail cell slamming behind some people.
The police investigation was completed by July 30, 2004, yet no one had been charged with a crime and CCA never suspended supervisory personnel.
Perhaps the only way for the truth to come out is through the civil lawsuit. After all, regardless of whether the use of force was excessive or not, what excuse could there be for delaying medical attention to a severely injured woman for a day?
Nine prisoners have died in MDCD since 2000. Eight were ruled to be natural causes; the ninth was held to be a medication overdose. A tenth prisoner died on a work detail when she was struck by a train. Ten prisoner deaths in three and a half years seems like a lot for one jail.
Reports by the medical examiner and toxicology experts have shed new light and raised new questions in the case of the murder of Estelle Richardson. The reports revealed two anti-depressant drugs, Paxil and Doxepin, at levels above normal therapeutic concentrations," in Richardson's body. According to Vanderbilt University Clinical Pharmacist David DePersio, the drug levels found in Richardson appeared high and would have caused her to act oddly." This may help explain why, although CCA characterized Richardson as mentally deficient" and psychologically impaired," Dee McClain, who grew up with Richardson, and Margaret Turner, Richardson's parole officer, said that she had no mental health issues.
The autopsy report also revealed that Richardson's fatal wounds resulted from her body being slammed into a hard object such as a wall or floor. Although Nashville Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Levy said the injuries could have happened many hours," even days before Richardson's death, he firmly ruled out the possibility that they were accidental or self-inflicted.
It's a restricted area. There's a limit to what you can do. If she had fallen from a high window or if she had been hit by a car, I would expect to see these types of injuries," said Levy.
Furthermore, the nature of the brain injuries indicates that Richardson's body was moving when the injuries occurred, rather then her having suffered multiple strikes, according to Levy. Levy also noted that, had Richardson remained conscious following the injuries, she would have been in intense pain and would have complained of the injuries. This puts a new light on her June 29th complaint to guard Captain Linda Hambrick that she felt like she was going to die. Hambrick wrote a report of the 2:00 a.m. incident nine days after Richardson's death. The report says Hambrick then left segregation to talk to Nurse Abby and asked her to check on ... Richardson in Cell 01." However, it does not say whether anyone actually checked on Richardson. Furthermore, the segregation logbook for Richardson shows no notation of Richardson requesting or receiving medical attention on June 29th. CCA has refused to release any information regarding Richardson's medical treatment citing concerns for the privacy rights of the murdered prisoner.
A tempest in a courthouse stirred up when a second attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, a former candidate for the governor's office in Michigan who represented Dr. Jack Kervorkian, claimed to represent Michigan resident Estella Buie, Richardson's grandmother and her children's legal guardian. Durham represents Tyrone Gibson, Savion's uncle, and Jimmy T. Beck, Saviyance's father, whom he claims to be their proper guardians. Fieger's team claims that Durham told the relatives keeping the children not to surrender them to Buie. Durham counters that Buie was not their true guardian and they have been living with their aunt, Nikeya Brown. Actions are pending in Michigan and Tennessee to have Buie dismissed as the children's legal guardian. Beating female prisoners to death in Nashville is not the only misconduct CCA guards have been up to lately. On August 4, 2004, Dustin Holey, a 22-year-old CCA guard at the Tulsa Jail in Oklahoma, was charged with possession of marijuana. The dope was found after a visual inspection of his car when he arrived for work at the staff parking lot on August 4, 2004. The visual inspection revealed a 9mm Ruger pistol partially hidden under the front seat. Holley consented to a search of his car which turned up a small bag of pot. Holley had worked at the jail eight months and had passed both a background check and drug screening when he was hired.
CCA guard Constance Edwards, 33, was arrested on September 17, 2003, as she tried to smuggle two balloons of heroin into the then-CCA-run Southern Nevada Women's Prison in North Las Vegas. Edwards allegedly was paid $50 to $200 per trip to smuggle drugs and other items to prisoner Valerie Moore. Moore's ex-cellmate, Karen Matthews, allegedly paid Edwards and provided her with the goods to be smuggled.
We found the stuff today in [Edwards's] bra," said Nevada Department of Public Safety Lt. Matthew Alberto. She was not only smuggling in dope, she was smuggling in other kinds of illegal contraband: cologne, toothbrushes, toiletries, Listerine& or things you couldn't get in commissary.
Alberto said Edwards had been under investigation for about a month and had worked at the prison for two years. She was arrested with more than $200 worth of heroin.
Ashley Kinnon and Shounda Palmer, 22, were fired from the CCA-run Whiteville Correctional Facility in Hardeman County, Tennessee, on July 12, 2004. Palmer was discovered attempting to bring two packages of marijuana, wrapped in duct tape and hidden in potato chip cans, into the prison. She gave up Kinnion as her partner in crime. Palmer had been working for CCA for four months; Kinnion for nine-months.
Patricia Cole, 51, a GED teacher at the CCA-run Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Tennessee, has been charged with introduction of contraband into a penal facility and possession of marijuana and cocaine. She has been under investigation for several months. She was arrested July 1, 2004, after an insider tip told investigators of a scheduled drug drop off. The drugs were later found on the prisoner fingered as working with Cole.
This all adds up to show that the bottom line for CCA is the bottom line--not public or prisoner safety. Should it then surprise us when ill-trained, underpaid, overworked guards become corrupt or victimize prisoners in episodes of rage? One can only hope that a federal jury in Tennessee will get CCA's attention by changing its bottom line significantly.
Sources: Jackson Sun (Jackson, Tennessee); Nashville Tennessean; www.tulsaworld.com; Las Vegas Sun; AP; www.wkrn.com; www.nashscene.com; The Tennessean.
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