Mississippi man died after beating by sheriff's officers, lawsuit says

By Peter Szekely

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) - The mother of a Mississippi man who died in jail within 24 hours of his arrest on a trespassing charge last year filed a lawsuit on Monday, saying that he was beaten and pepper-sprayed while handcuffed and accusing local jailers of "routinely" using "barbaric measures."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Mississippi, charges Madison County, its sheriff and several jail guards with violating the civil rights and due process of the man, Harvey Hill, following his arrest on May 6, 2018.

According to the lawsuit, Hill died after he was taken from his cell by sheriff's officers.

"Later that day, prison guards of the Madison County Detention Center essentially administered the death penalty to Mr. Hill using excessive force, handcuffs and pepper spray," the complaint said.

The suit, filed by Hill's mother, Betty Hill, seeks unspecified damages.

Betty Hill's lawyers said that in the months that followed her son's death two more inmates died in custody at the jail run by Madison County Sheriff Randy Tucker.

A spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, Heath Hall, had no immediate response to the suit.

"We have not been served with a lawsuit therefore we are not able to comment on something we have not seen or read," Hall said by email.

A spokesman for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which Betty Hill's lawyers said was investigating her son's death, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hill's trespassing arrest came after he was spotted sitting on a porch swing at the home of a former employer, according to a local media report.

After Hill was jailed, there was an altercation between inmates at mealtime during which a guard struck Hill, the complaint said.

He was returned to his cell after the incident, but later pulled out and beaten by guards because he failed to show "proper deference," the complaint said. Hill was found dead in his cell the next morning, it said.

"Instead of simply punishing this type of behavior with non-physical, non-forceful disciplinary measures, Madison County jailers routinely used excessive force, barbaric measures and cruel and unusual punishment against prisoners similar to Harvey Hill," it said.

"One of the reasons why we’re bringing this lawsuit is so that we can get answers and so we can get information, so that we can get justice," Derek Sells, one of the attorneys who filed the suit, said by telephone.

Hill's mother said she had last seen her son the day before his arrest, and was notified by the sheriff the night after he died.

"Randy Tucker called that evening and told me my son had had a heart attack," Betty Hill said by telephone.



(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)