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Nine Memphis Jailers Indicted in Death of Psychotic Detainee

On September 20, 2023, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner announced that nine of his deputies had been indicted in the death of Gershun Freeman, a 33-year-old Black man who died in custody at the Memphis lockup during a psychotic episode in October 2022.

The incident came to light only after video footage surfaced showing jail guards using excessive force on the detainee. The video, which has since circulated widely, captured the brutal encounter on October 5, 2022, between Freeman, who was unclothed, and at least 10 jail guards who got into a violent confrontation with him when he fled his cell. They then dragged him into another hallway, where Freeman could be seen wrapping himself around a guard’s legs.

After eventually getting him face-down on the ground, guards stepped and kneeled on Freeman’s back until he became motionless. Freeman appeared limp when the guards finally lifted him, head slumping forward between his knees and hands cuffed behind his back. He remained in that position until medical personnel arrived, and the video concluded.

Freeman’s legal representatives contend that he was struck with handcuffs, jail keys and pepper spray canisters during the incident. But Bonner stated in March 2023 that Freeman had “psychosis and cardiovascular disease and died of a heart attack while being restrained,” citing a medical examiner’s autopsy. That report from the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center listed homicide as the manner of death but clarified that this was “not meant to definitively indicate criminal intent.”

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy requested the state Bureau of Investigation to conduct an independent inquiry into the matter. An independent prosecutor from Nashville is handling the case.

Memphis has been grappling with the fallout from another alleged use of excessive force by law enforcement, the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police in January 2023. Nichols, a Black motorist, was subjected to physical abuse during his arrest, which was captured on video and sparked outrage. The incident led to the termination of seven police officers, five of whom now face charges of second-degree murder in state court, as well as federal civil rights violations. They have pleaded not guilty.

Members of Nichols’ family joined a March 2023 news conference held by Gershun Freeman’s family, where they collectively called for accountability for the guards involved in Freeman’s confrontation. He had been incarcerated on October 1, 2022, on charges of attacking and kidnapping his girlfriend, according to court records.

Sheriff Bonner, who is currently running for mayor of Memphis, defended the deputies involved and said they have been placed on paid administrative leave. He called both release of the video and the indictments politically motivated, blaming Mulroy, who supports a different mayoral candidate.

“Let me be clear. No action — no action — by any Shelby County Sheriff’s Office employee caused Mr. Freeman’s death,” Bonner insisted.

In response, Mulroy issued a statement indicating that he had endorsed mayoral candidate Van Turner before Freeman’s death and emphasized that he had recused himself from the investigation to prevent any political influence. “I’ve had no involvement at all in the case since last year and played no role in the decision to indict,” Mulroy said, calling the video’s release an act of transparency.

Brice Timmons, an attorney representing Freeman’s family, placed the blame squarely on Sheriff Bonner for jail policies that led to Freeman’s death. “He supports his officers. He creates these policies,” ­Timmons stated.  

Source: AP News

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