NC Jail Staff Accused of Beating, Abusing Mentally Ill Veteran to Death
A civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court on May 7 alleges that detention officers for Wayne County repeatedly pepper sprayed, kicked, stomped, punched and shocked a mentally ill Army veteran before bringing him to a shower, surrounding and beating him.
After that, according to the lawsuit, they hogtied 54-year-old Army veteran Jerry Parker and repeatedly shocked him with a stun gun.
By the time he was taken to the hospital, he'd suffered cardiac arrest and had been suffocated.
Parker was pronounced dead the next day.
"It’s something that was completely preventable," Matthew Sullivan, the attorney representing Margaret Jean Kelly, Parker's 74-year-old mother, said.
"They didn't do what they should have done to keep this from happening."
When Parker was booked in to the Wayne County Detention Center in Goldsboro, North Carolina, for allegedly breaking the window on his neighbor's truck in May 2017, he told officers "God told me to."
Before, during and after Parker's arrest, he was talking quickly and incoherently and showed signs that he was in the midst of a psychiatric emergency.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Parker's family alleges that, under the direction of Sheriff Lawrence M. Pierce Jr., jail staff ignored Parker's psychiatric issues and need for treatment.
Instead, officers responded to his anger and erratic behavior by repeatedly pepper spraying, kicking him, stomping him, punching and shocking him.
Then, when Parker grew upset and his mental state worsened from the abuse, jail staff "hogtied' him on his stomach by pulling his arms and legs behind his back and applying handcuffs, leg shackles and a hobble restraint.
"This man was beaten pretty significantly," Sullivan told The Appeal.
"Mr. Parker never regained consciousness."
Sullivan obtained video that shows the beating, but is barred from releasing it at this point.
Photos of Parker's body obtained by The Appeal show serious bruising and bleeding across his head.
The autopsy attributed the cause of his death to cardiac arrest and traumatic brain injury caused by "blunt force trauma, pepper spray use, physical restraint and conducted electrical weapon application."
Parker's behavior fit a pattern of behavior that he typically treated and managed with medication.
Parker frequently had manic episodes and would go days without sleeping.
He was also on medication for bipolar disorder.
But the lawsuit alleges that, despite a prevalence of mental health issues in North Carolina jails, Wayne County Detention Center had no resources at all for mental health at the time Parker was arrested.
The lawsuit also names Southern Health Partners, a for-profit corporation that provides mental health and medical services inside more than 200 county and city correctional facilities that it contracts with in 15 states, as a defendant.
The corporation, which is facing several lawsuits in several states, was named in a lawsuit earlier this month for an incident in Putnam County, Tennessee ignored an inmate who obviously needed help before he died, according to the Herald-Citizen.
"While in the holding cell, inmates observed Mr. Meadows laid out on a concrete bench and not able to sit up on his own," the lawsuit says.
"When he attempted to sit up, he would fall over. Mr. Meadows was unable to speak clearly. His voice was weak and strained, like someone who had a stroke or someone with Lou Gehrig's Disease."
"It was obvious to the other inmates that something was very wrong with Mr. Meadows and that he needed medical attention."
A representative for the Wayne County Detention Center declined to comment.