Sheriff says 9 deputies charged in death of black man beaten in Memphis jail
Lawyer Brice Timmons, third from left, speaks at a news conference about the indictments of nine jail deputies in connection with an inmate's beating on Wednesday, September 20, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn. Timmons represents the family of Gershun Freeman, who died in last fall after a confrontation at the Shelby County Jail. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) — Nine Memphis jail deputies have been indicted in the death of a Black man who was having a psychotic episode and died in custody last fall after jailers punched, kicked and kneeled on his back during a confrontation, a sheriff said Wednesday.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, who oversees the jail where 33-year-old Gershun Freeman was beaten, disclosed the existence of the indictments during a news conference Wednesday but declined to offer more details, including the names of the county jail deputies and the charges they face.

The Associated Press was unable to obtain the indictments late Wednesday. But lawyers for Freeman’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit against Bonner said the indictments were sealed. They declined to name the jailers and the charges, only saying that they are serious.

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk released video in March of Freeman at the Shelby County Jail.

The video shows Freeman was beaten by at least 10 corrections officers October 5 after he ran naked from his cell. His attorneys say he was also struck with handcuffs, rings of jail keys and pepper spray cannisters.

Freeman had “psychosis and cardiovascular disease and died of a heart attack while being restrained,” Bonner said in a March statement, citing a medical examiner’s report.

Freeman’s manner of death is listed as a homicide in the autopsy report from the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center, although the report says that this “is not meant to definitively indicate criminal intent.”

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the death. Funk is acting as an independent prosecutor in the case out of Nashville.

Memphis has been roiled by Tyre Nichols’ fatal beating by Memphis police in January. The Black motorist was punched, hit with a baton, kicked and pepper sprayed during an arrest that was recorded on video.

His death led to seven police firings, including of the five officers who have since been charged with second-degree murder in state court and federal civil rights violations. They have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Nichols’ family members were present at a March news conference during which Gershun Freeman’s family called for the corrections deputies involved in the confrontation with Freeman to be punished.

Freeman had been booked in jail October 1 on charges of attacking and kidnapping his girlfriend, according to court records.

The video begins with two corrections officers serving meals to inmates in a narrow hallway. When Freeman’s cell opens, he runs out unclothed and appears to charge at the officers.

The officers wrestle him to the ground and begin to punch, kick and pepper-spray him. They are joined by additional officers. The deputies move with Freeman out of the hallway. From another camera’s view, Freeman is seen wrapping himself around an officer’s legs in a different hallway.

The video shifts to a bank of escalators and Freeman, still naked, runs up one of them. In another hallway, a struggle continues with officers attempting to restrain him before getting him face-down on the ground. They can be seen stepping and kneeling on his back before he becomes still. One officer remained on Freeman’s back for several minutes before he was lifted.

He appears limp when officers do lift him up, with his head falling forward between his knees and his hands cuffed behind his back. He remains in that position until medical employees arrive, and the video ends.

Bonner, who is running for mayor of Memphis, said the deputies have been placed on paid administrative leave. Bonner said he supports them and claims the release of the video and the indictments are politically motivated because Mulroy, the Shelby County district attorney, supports a different mayoral candidate.

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