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Video shows Memphis jailers beating Black inmate who died

Gershun Freeman, 33, had “psychosis and cardiovascular disease and died of a heart attack while being restrained,” the Shelby County sheriff said

Black Lives Matter
Demonstrators hold signs during a protest in New York City on January 28, 2023, in response to the death of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police during a traffic stop.Yuki Iwamura (AP)

A Black man having a psychotic episode died in custody last fall after Memphis jailors punched, kicked and kneeled on his back during a confrontation, according to a video released this week by a Tennessee prosecutor.

The Nashville District Attorney’s Office released video Thursday of Gershun Freeman, 33, at the Shelby County Jail in Memphis, news outlets reported. The video shows Freeman was beaten by at least 10 corrections officers on October 5 after he ran naked from his cell.

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

Prominent civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who is representing Freeman’s family, said in a statement “he was naked and clearly suffering from a mental health crisis,” and called the death “another shocking example of police brutality” in Memphis.

The city 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 the firings of the five officers, who have since been charged with second-degree murder. Crump is also representing Nichols’ family.

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 this “is not meant to definitively indicate criminal intent.”

In his statement, the Shelby County sheriff said it was unfortunate the video does not show the whole episode. The video has been edited and includes multiple camera angles in different parts of the jail.

The attorney general’s office for Shelby County has brought in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the death, and has asked the Nashville District Attorney General’s Office to act as an independent prosecutor in the case.

Freeman was in jail after being charged with attacking and kidnapping his girlfriend, according to media reports.

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, and are joined by additional officers. The deputies move with Freeman out of the hallway. From another camera’s view, we see Freeman 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.

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