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Four CCA Guards Indicted in Murder of Nashville Prisoner

Four guards have been indicted for reckless homicide and aggravated assault in the July 2004 murder of a female prisoner at the Metro Detention Facility in Nashville, Tennessee, previously reported in PLN. [see PLN, Apr. 2005, p. 14]. The Metro facility is run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Americas largest private prison company, which is based in Nashville.

Estelle Richardson, 34, was incarcerated at the Metro Detention Facility. On July 5, 2004, at 5:37 a.m., she was found unresponsive on the floor of her solitary confinement cell. CCA claims Richardson had fought with other prisoners. However, other prisoners could not have been responsible for the severe injuries that caused her death because she was alone in her cell at the time. Thus, only CCA employees could have killed her.

An autopsy revealed a fatal skull fracture, four broken ribs and liver injuries. The medical examiner said the injuries were consistent with blunt force trauma caused by Richardsons body being slammed against a hard surface, and could not have been self-inflicted. Her death was ruled a homicide.

In September 2005, CCA guards William Woods, 26; Keith Andre Hendricks, 35; Jeremy Neese, 24; and Joshua D. Schockman, 23, were indicted on reckless homicide and aggravated assault charges. They were arrested and then released on $25,000 bond. They had been placed on paid administrative leave since the murder, and face maximum sentences of four years in prison for reckless homicide or six years in prison for aggravated assault.
Richardson had a non-violent criminal history. She was in jail on a food stamp fraud charge at the time of her death. She also had a probation violation hold from a previous drug possession conviction.

In an interview, Woods admitted that the guards had an altercation with Richardson the day before she died, after she refused to clean her cell. Richardson struggled with the guards when they attempted to handcuff her after they sprayed her with chemical agents. However, Woods denied that any of the guards hit Richardson or injured her so as to cause the fatal injuries.

Davidson County prosecutors blame the lengthy delay in filing charges against the CCA guards on a federal investigation. According to them, the state conducted its investigation and forwarded the results to federal prosecutors who, after an investigation of their own, determined that the charges were best prosecuted in state court.

For Richardsons brother, Tyrone Gibson of Lansing, Michigan, the prosecution is the beginning of the end.

I think its a beginning of a long conclusion, said Gibson, who was in Nashville attending a hearing in the criminal cases. I think anyone who has been involved has already had a foregone conclusion that these four men have to face justice here. And the family of my sister, who has been dead over a year now, will eventually have some closure.

The guardian of Richardsons children, Saviyance Beck, 15, and Savion Richardson, 8, filed a suit on their behalf seeking $60 million in damages. Other family members filed a lawsuit seeking $160 million. Its for her kids, said Estella Buie, Ricardsons mother. And my whole family for them to get justice for her. But justice can be elusive, even when its obtained.

On February 22, 2006, Richardsons family settled their lawsuit against CCA for an undisclosed amount; the terms of the settlement were confidential. Gibson, Richardsons brother, said the settlement was welcome but It really doesnt, in a sense, relieve us, as far as the loss of my sister. To be honest, its really hard. The family is now turning its attention to the pending criminal charges against the CCA guards.

It remains to be seen whether justice will be done in the city where CCA has its corporate headquarters. On October 5, 2005 all four CCA guards, who remain on the companys payroll, entered pleas of not guilty and denied having used excessive force on Richardson. CCA declined to comment on the charges filed against its employees, and the firm has refused to release information regarding the salaries the guards continue to be paid while they are on administrative leave.

Sources: Nashville Tennessean, Nashville City Paper, New York Times, Associated Press,

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