Nine deputies in Tennessee have been charged in the death of an inmate after video showed them punching, kicking, pepper spraying and eventually kneeling on the 33-year-old man's upper back last October amid a lengthy struggle.
The charges stem from Gershun Freeman's death at the Shelby County Jail. The county's sheriff and Memphis mayoral candidate held a news conference criticizing the charges this week, making public news of the indictments before the accused were fully notified.
An autopsy report said Freeman collapsed after a "physical altercation with corrections officers." Freeman was restrained, had a cardiac arrest and was given CPR before being pronounced dead.
His manner of death was listed as homicide, although it "is not meant to definitively indicate criminal intent," the autopsy said.
According to the autopsy, Freeman had a history of psychosis, which was considered a possible contributory cause of his death. He was also healing from a stab wound in his back at the time of his death.
Memphis attorney Jake Brown and civil rights attorney Ben Crump have filed a lawsuit against Shelby County. Crump called Freeman's death another "shocking example of police brutality" in March.
He said the released video showed Freeman naked and suffering from a mental health crisis as he alleged officers brutalized the 33-year-old. The video is "is visual evidence that at least 10 officers brutalized and beat Gershun to death," Crump's statement says.
According to court records, a grand jury made the indictments Tuesday, with warrants issued Wednesday. Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk authorized the charges against Memphis-based Shelby County Sheriff's Office deputies.
Security footage shows deputies, Freeman in physical confrontation
Security footage released in March showed officers handing out boxed meals to inmates on Oct. 5, 2022. When they reached Freeman's cell, he ran out and appeared to grab at an officer. The sheriff's office said Freeman bit one of the corrections officers when he ran out.
Officers wrestled Freeman to the ground and began to punch and kick him. Freeman gets up and is met by more officers. In total, 10 officers were seen in the cell block attempting to restrain Freeman. One officer was seen hitting Freeman with what appeared to be a canister of pepper spray.
The camera shifted to Freeman running up escalators with three staffers following him. The next angle showed an officer pushing Freeman against a wall, and Freeman appeared to swing at him.
Two more officers arrived and held Freeman to the ground, attempting to handcuff him after a few punches. More officers arrive as Freeman is handcuffed, face down on the ground. He eventually moved, and one officer appeared to place his knee on Freeman's upper back for several minutes before Freeman was lifted.
A dark red substance was left on the floor where his body was. Freeman, at this point, appears to be limp as officers lift him by his wrists. He is set down, and his head falls forward between his knees. Medical personnel arrived nearly two minutes later.
Who are the nine charged officers?
Two corrections officers, Stevon Jones and Courtney Parham, were charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault while acting in concert with others. Jones was also charged with assault causing bodily harm.
Jeffrey Gibson, Anthony Howell, Damian Cooper, Ebonee Davis, Lareko Donwel Elliot and Chelsey Duckett were charged with aggravated assault resulting in the death of another, according to court records.
One officer's name was redacted from the report but was also charged with aggravated assault resulting in the death of another, according to an indictment released Thursday morning.
The corrections officers are all Shelby County Sheriff's Office employees and weren't previously identified.
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, who is running for mayor of Memphis, said officers are on paid leave and will “be the first to donate” any fundraising opportunities for their legal costs.
Attorneys representing Freeman's family in a civil lawsuit strongly disputed Bonner's characterization of the indictments as political.
“He’s lying,” said Jake Brown, an attorney for the Freeman family, before being cut off by attorney Brice Timmons, who is also representing the family.
“He’s not lying,” Timmons said, referring to Bonner. “He’s responsible. He supports his officers. He creates these policies. He is personally and directly responsible for the death of Gershun Freeman.”
Sheriff criticizes charges
Bonner blasted the indictments, saying the investigation was political and that he had requested it be reassigned from Funk. Funk's office was chosen by a panel of district attorneys after Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy recused himself from the case.
“Let me be clear, no actions by any Shelby County Sheriff’s Office employee caused Mr. Freeman’s death,” Bonner said Wednesday. "The medical examiner plainly said that he died from a pre-existing heart condition."
Freeman's autopsy report, however, said Freeman's heart condition was exacerbated by the physical altercation with the officers.
Freeman was arrested on Oct. 1, 2022, on charges of attacking and kidnapping his girlfriend, according to court records.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Jail deputies in Tennessee charged in inmate Gershun Freeman's death