The Commercial Appeal

Family of inmate who died at Shelby County Jail wants DOJ probe

- Dima Amro

The family of a man who died in October at the Shelby County Jail wants the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigat­ion into the circumstan­ces surroundin­g the death.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the family of 33year-old Gershun Freeman, also called on the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to make public the full video of events that preceded Freeman’s death.

“This isn’t the first allegation of brutality of marginaliz­ed people in the county jail,” Crump said at a Friday afternoon press conference. “Just because you’re detaining in the county jail does not mean that the jailers get to be the judge, the jury and the executione­r.”

After a “physical altercatio­n with correction­s officers,” Freeman collapsed, according to a narrative summary in his autopsy, conducted by the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center.

At the press conference, Crump stood with Freeman’s mother, father, wife and 10-year-old daughter. Attorney Brice Timmons, attorney Jake Brown, attorney and President of NAACP Memphis Branch Van Turner and Executive Director of Just City Josh Spickler also joined the conference.

The press conference came on the heels of five former Memphis police officers pleading not guilty Friday morning to criminal charges related to their involvemen­t in the brutal beating of Tyre


“It is shocking to think here in Memphis, where we recently witnessed the abuse on the video of law enforcemen­t beating an unarmed Black man to death, that inside the jail we might have another instance of law enforcemen­t beating an unarmed Black man to death,” Crump said.

Brown, who watched the videos of Freeman in jail, said Freeman was in his cell naked and “for some reason” correction­al officers opened the door to his cell. Freeman was then seen outside of his cell.

Brown said between 10 and 20 officers “descended on him” throughout the videos and the correction­al officers hit Freeman with their fists, batons, pepper spray and kicked him as well.

“He was then allowed to run up to a different floor of the jail, and after what he had just been through I don’t think any reasonable person could blame him from running from those officers,” Brown said. “He’s apprehende­d on the second floor and, from the footage that we’ve seen, we can tell that several officers apprehende­d him, put him in handcuffs and were on top of him for several minutes.”

Timmons, whose practice focuses on prison and jail conditions, said in 2000 the Department of Justice launched an investigat­ion into 201 Poplar because of conditions inside the jail. He said the DOJ, through a consent decree, “worked hard” and improved jail conditions for inmates.

“Twenty-two years later, we have now managed to go backwards,” Timmons said. “This jail (201 Poplar) is again one of the most dangerous, violent and constituti­onally deficient in the country.”

Freeman’s father, George Burks, his mother Kimberly Freeman, and wife Nicole Freeman, said they want the full video, unedited, released to the public.

“They killed my boy,” Burks said. “My boy didn’t deserve that.”

Kimberly Freeman said Geshun Freeman was her only child.

“We took a vow together to raise our daughter as a family, unfortunat­ely we were robbed of that,” Nicole Freeman said tearfully. “It’s just not fair and we won’t stop until we get justice.”

Death classified as ‘homicide’

Freeman was restrained, suffered a cardiac arrest and officers gave him CPR before he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was exacerbati­on of heart disease due to the physical altercatio­n and being subdued by officers.

The autopsy classified his death as a “homicide,” but didn’t “definitive­ly indicate” criminal intent by the officers.

According to the autopsy, Freeman had a history of a psychosis, which was considered a possible contributo­ry cause of his death. He was healing from a stab wound in his back at the time of his death.

Freeman’s body had multiple contusions and a 11⁄8-inch scalp laceration, according to the autopsy. The contusions were on his scalp, neck, forehead, and lower and upper lips.

The autopsy also found hemorrhagi­ng in his head, neck and back.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigat­ion and local prosecutor­s are reviewing the circumstan­ces of Freeman’s death. No charges have been filed.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said the investigat­ion is active or open and will not release the video showing an altercatio­n between correction­al officers and Freeman.

The jail surveillan­ce videos, of which there are several, of the incident between Freeman and correction­al officers show the officers beating the inmate with fists, batons and some sort of metal object, said Brown, a Memphis attorney who is investigat­ing the case alongside Crump. They are doing so on behalf of the family but have not filed any lawsuits.

Brown said he watched the videos from the jail alongside the district attorney, representa­tives from TBI and members of Freeman’s family.

Freeman was arrested Oct. 1, 2022, after he was accused of attacking, threatenin­g and kidnapping his girlfriend. The kidnapping charge stemmed from the woman telling investigat­ors Freeman forced her into a car at his home and drove her to another location, where she was set free.

Commercial Appeal reporter Katherine Burgess contribute­d to this report.

Dima Amro covers the suburbs for The Commercial Appeal and can be reached at Dima.amro@commercial­ or on Twitter @Amrodima.

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