MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The family of Gershun Freeman, an inmate who died at 201 Poplar last year, filed a lawsuit against Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner and the Shelby County government.
The lawsuit claims the officers involved and Shelby County leadership disregarded jail policy and displayed a pattern of violence against inmates. It also claims jail staff and SCSO employees interfered with the TBI’s investigation.
Freeman was booked at the Shelby County Jail on Oct. 1, 2022, after he was accused of kidnapping and threatening his ex-girlfriend.
According to court documents, Freeman’s behavior leading up to his arrest in October was abnormal. Family members suspected he was experiencing a mental health crisis.
The lawsuit notes a lack of formal structure for mental or behavioral health services despite having approximately 350 inmates with behavioral health issues.
Documents state Freeman was eventually moved to the 4-Juliet cell pod, known as the suicide pod, days after his arrival because jail staff determined that he was experiencing a mental health crisis and “posed an imminent risk of self-harm.”
On Oct. 5, Freeman reportedly started to exhibit symptoms of active psychosis. Court documents state jail policy requires corrections officers to feed 4-Juliet inmates through security flaps in the cell doors to prevent confrontation with inmates suffering from acute psychosis or destabilizing psychiatric conditions.
Documents state two deputies entered the 4-Juliet pod to bring food and one of the deputies opened Freeman’s cell door and pointed a can of mace at him. When Freeman left the cell to avoid being maced, other officers punched, kicked, and beat Freeman with the can of mace instead of closing the door.
The lawsuit claims deputies violated policy by reaching into Freeman’s cell and completely opening his cell door. It also claims jail staff made no attempt to resuscitate him before medical staff arrived.
A report by the medical examiner said Freeman was restrained by jailers and subsequently went into cardiac arrest. Video released by the District Attorney’s Office in Nashville in March showed the moments leading up to the 33-year-old’s death.
The lawsuit claims jail staff and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office employees interfered with the investigation by giving false narrative accounts of the incident, telling TBI no inmates witnessed the incident, intimidating inmates who witnessed the incident from reporting what they saw and withholding camera footage from TBI.
The lawsuit also notes that eight prisoners died at the Shelby County Jail between Jan. 1, 2022, and Oct. 5, 2022, not including Freeman’s death.
The lawsuit states Freeman’s wife and her child were “deprived of the comfort, companionship, society, love, enjoyment, and support that Mr. Freeman would have otherwise provided them.”
The lawsuit also states that Freeman’s wife and her child have suffered economic loss and have “otherwise been emotionally and economically injured.”
Freeman’s family is asking the courts to award them compensatory damages as well as punitive damages against Bonner and the Shelby County government.