Family of Black man killed in Memphis jail demands justice
The family of a Black man who died in a Memphis jail in October is making a public plea for justice and say they want answers from authorities and accountability from those responsible.
The family of Gershun Freeman, a 33-year-old who died in custody at the Shelby County Jail, spoke at a news conference Friday. They were joined by lawyers, including Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump and supporters that included the parents of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died three days after Memphis police officers repeatedly punched and kicked him after a traffic stop.
Video footage of Freeman’s encounter with corrections officers inside the jail was made public this month.
The video footage, released by the Nashville District Attorney, totals about 13 minutes and shows multiple angles of a violent incident between Freeman and multiple corrections officers that ended in Freeman’s death on October 5, 2022.
Freeman had been booked into jail a week before his death on charges of domestic violence related to aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault, according to the arrest affidavit obtained by CNN affiliate WHBQ.
In the edited surveillance camera video, corrections officers are seen handing out meals to inmates and when they open the door of Freeman’s cell, a naked Freeman lunges at officers. The video shows multiple officers punching, kicking, and using what appears to be pepper spray on Freeman as as they attempt to subdue him.
His body appears to leave a trail of unknown fluid on the floor beneath him as he moves into a different hallway. During two separate instances, Freeman can be seen on the floor clinging to the leg of a guard, before getting up and running away.
After officers chase Freeman to another jail floor and try to restrain him, he appears to swing at an officer. Officers eventually subdue Freeman, including by placing a knee on his back, and put him in handcuffs as he was on his stomach.
A few minutes later, when officers try to lift him, he appears limp and unresponsive.
Kimberly Freeman, Gershun Freeman’s mother, said she wants justice for her son, for herself, and for her granddaughter.
“We have to see my son – her father – in a box. We didn’t plan this. My son had a lot of dreams, a lot of admiration, he cared for people in general,” she said. “We want answers.”
Freeman’s family and their attorneys are also calling on the Justice Department to investigate.
Freeman was naked in the video because he had been under mental health observation in the jail and was placed in a suicide watch cell, said attorney Brice Timmons, who is representing the family.
“I don’t know what is happening in America where law enforcement feels they can treat mental health issues like criminal issues. Especially if they are marginalized people of color. Especially if they are Black men,” Crump said during the news conference.
A 19-page autopsy report from the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office provided to CNN by affiliate WHBQ says the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told their office Freeman was involved in a physical altercation with corrections officers before collapsing in cardiac arrest.
The autopsy details numerous contusions on Freeman’s body, lacerations to his scalp and multiple hemorrhages on his head and neck.
Medical examiners found the cause of death to be exacerbation of “cardiovascular disease due to physical altercation and subdual.”
The report also says “probable psychotic disorder” was likely a contributing condition to his cause of death. The report classifies the death as a homicide, but notes it is “not meant to definitively indicate criminal intent.”
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said in a Friday statement that “immediate action was taken by the Sheriff the night of the incident in October 2022. Per protocol, DA (Steve) Mulroy and TBI were contacted that night to begin the investigation,” adding that the night of the incident “all officers who had contact with Mr. Freeman were relieved of duty and remain in that status today.”
“It’s unfortunate this case is being tried in the media before the review is complete,” Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said in the statement.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident and told CNN that probe “remains active and ongoing.”
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office has asked the Nashville District Attorney’s Office to investigate the case.
The Nashville District Attorney’s office told CNN Friday they were “not commenting on the video at this time.”