MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy is firing back after Sheriff Floyd Bonner called indictments against nine of Bonner’s deputy jailers “political.”
Those jailers were indicted in the death of 33-year-old Gershun Freeman, who went into cardiac arrest after an encounter with jailers in 2022.
Bonner, who is also running to be the mayor of Memphis, contends his officers are innocent.
“I want this community to know that I stand with these officers,” Bonner said. “I believe that if I were not running for another office these indictments wouldn’t have happened and I find this despicable.”
That accusation drew a quick response from Mulroy on Thursday.
“When any public official makes a public comment suggesting that a prosecution is politically motivated, I have to take notice,” Mulroy said. “I endorsed Van Turner for Memphis Mayor before Mr. Freeman ever tragically died in the Shelby County jail and indeed before Sheriff Bonner said that he was going to run for Memphis Mayor.”
Mulroy says Bonner’s accusations are “regrettable” and says he recused himself from the Freeman case to avoid any appearance of political involvement.
“It was the Tennessee DA’s Conference, not I, that appointed Nashville DA Glenn Funk to handle the Freeman case,” Mulroy said.
Bonner questioned whether Funk’s releasing edited jail surveillance video violated state and federal laws and compromised security protocols at the jail. Mulroy says he’s in a “no-win” situation.
“Just suppose for a moment that I hadn’t recused myself. I don’t know what I would have done, but let’s suppose I hadn’t recused myself, and an indictment would have been issued. What would have Sheriff Bonner said? He would have said it was political,” Mulroy said.
Thursday afternoon, Bonner released a statement on Mulroy’s comments. Read the full statement below.
“I stand by my prior statements on the release of excerpts of the jail videos by DA Funk and the release of the indictments conveniently during the early voting period for the Memphis Municipal Election. I notified DA Mulroy of the Freeman death and asked that a TBI investigation be initiated by his office. We turned over the complete video and other materials to TBI as we always have in the past. We allowed Assistant DA Lorna McCluskey to review the entire video, who did not inform us of any potential misconduct by our jailers after her review. TBI has never advised us of any potential misconduct by our jailers. The medical examiner found Freeman’s death was attributable to his pre-existing medical condition.
DA Funk released his self-edited version of the entire video during the pendency of TBI’s investigation over the strenuous objections of the County Attorney, primarily due to concerns that the video would compromise security protocols at the jail. The release of the video was contrary to Tennessee statutes, Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the U.S. Constitution’s protections for the rights of defendants accused of crimes as the Tennessee Supreme Court has held in similar cases.
It has been the policy of my office not to release any records relating to a pending criminal investigation by TBI, since we are prohibited by law from doing so and since we do not wish to compromise the integrity of TBI’s investigation.
Politics have been interwoven into the Freeman matter from the outset, as DA Mulroy’s alleged recusal was due to his political support of Van Turner. Despite DA Mulroy’s self-proclaimed conflict, he and his office have continued to be involved in other potential prosecutions of Sheriff officers during the pendency of the Mayoral election. It appears to me that DA Mulroy and DA Funk apply a different standard for their own compliance with the laws that they have sworn an oath to enforce.”
Two of the nine deputies who were indicted in Freeman’s death have been sued before. The 2021 lawsuit names Stevon Jones and Damien Cooper for allegedly violating the civil rights of another inmate. The two were accused of assault, and Jones was accused of not feeding the inmate.