Linda Tant Miller





The Associated Press
August 11, 2007

HERNANDO The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into the death of a Hernando woman who apparently used her shoestrings to hang herself in the DeSoto County jail.

DeSoto County Coroner Jeffery Pounders said Cayce Allen, 27, was found dead in a holding cell at 3:19 a.m. Wednesday. She had been arrested and charged with drunken driving and running a stop sign.

Pounders said the death was ruled a suicide-by-ligature hanging.

"In the holding cell, there is a sprinkler head about seven to eight feet off the floor," he said Thursday.

"Somehow, she removed the chrome cover on the head and then used her shoestrings to tie to the fixture and around her neck," he said.

Pounders said the woman was alone in the cell.

Cmdr. Mark Blackson of the DeSoto County Sheriff's Department said the state agency was asked to come in and conduct an investigation into the woman's death.

"All of the evidence has been collected and all those present have been interviewed," he said.

He gave no indication when the state officers would complete their investigation.



Inmate Had Been Waiting to be Moved to a Mental Hospital

By Allison Buckley
June 16, 2007

An 18-year-old mentally ill Jackson man hanged himself in his Hinds County Detention Center cell a day after he was ordered to be committed to the state mental hospital for treatment.

Jeffery Jerome Leggett of 4619 Nisqually Road was ordered held at the detention center until a bed became available at the State Hospital at Whitfield, according to the commitment order signed Wednesday in Hinds County Chancery Court.

There was no waiting list for the 100 male psychiatric beds at the facility, hospital spokesman David Miller said Friday. The hospital typically can admit people in less than two days, he said.

"We don't have a long waiting period any longer," Miller said.

Leggett had a history of mental illness, had been treated at five facilities and had a "risk of violence and suicide," according to court papers. He had stopped taking his medication, the papers said.

Leggett's cellmate found him Thursday at 7:25 p.m. hanging from a smoke detector by sheets that had been shredded and tied together, Sheriff Malcolm McMillin said Friday.

"Earlier his cellmate had observed him tearing up strips of a sheet and did not notify the deputy on duty, and he (Leggett) was able to conceal these strips of sheet under a blanket," McMillin said.

There was no indication of foul play nor was it suspected, McMillin said.

Leggett was not on suicide watch, but he was being supervised, McMillin said.

The sheriff said he did not know if any disciplinary actions would result from the suicide. "That's why we're conducting an investigation to see if there were violations of policy," McMillin said.

Leggett had been booked Monday at the Hinds County Penal Farm on a domestic violence charge and had been moved to the detention center later that day to await a lunacy hearing.

His grandmother, Joann Percy, had filed commitment papers after he had threatened her life, according to the papers filed Monday. He had been verbally abusive, destructive and made "verbal threats on all family members," the court papers said.

Housing mentally ill inmates in county jails to await treatment at a mental health hospital has been one of the key concerns of sheriffs. The issue was discussed again at a convention of Mississippi sheriffs this week in Tunica.

Coahoma County Sheriff Andrew Thompson said the sheriffs talked about seeking legislation to speed up getting mentally ill inmates out of county jails.

Thompson also said he would like to see more training for jailers dealing with mental patients.

To comment on this story, call Allison Buckley at (601) 961-7303.
Staff writer Andy Kanengiser contributed to this report.




June 23, 2007

GULFPORT A federal judge Friday rejected a south Mississippi newspaper's request to view the videotaped beating of inmate Jessie Lee Williams Jr. and inmate-abuse complaints.

"The right to a fair trial trumps all the First Amendment rights you may have," Chief Magistrate Judge John Roper told the Sun Herald newspaper.

The Sun Herald sued in Chancery Court to have the documents declared subject to the Mississippi Public Records Act. The request was filed May 31, one day after a Harrison County Chancery Judge Jim Persons said the materials were public record under Mississippi law.

Defense attorneys objected vigorously to the Sun Herald's requests. One attorney blasted the newspaper for taking up his time in court to request documents to be used in the upcoming trial of four ex-jailers accused of conspiring to violate the civil rights of inmates at the Harrison County jail. Their trial is scheduled Aug. 6.

Roper said the newspaper has a legal standing to ask for what it believes it is entitled to receive.

The videotape depicts the beating of Williams, a 40-year-old detainee at the Harrison County jail, who died Feb. 6, 2006, two days after the assault.

Roper did, however, unseal several records after the Sun Herald claimed no notice was given in advance for why the documents were being sealed.

Federal trial attorney John Richmond argued the newspaper shouldn't receive copies of inmate grievance records because other criminal accusations may be made in the ongoing investigation. Roper agreed.


July 3, 2007


Harrison County supervisors announced Monday that the county has reached a $3.5 million settlement for its part in a lawsuit brought by the family of Jessie Lee Williams Jr., an inmate beaten to death at the jail nearly 17 months ago.

Supervisors said $1 million will be covered by insurance, but the county will have to issue bonds to pay for the rest of the settlement.

Williams, 40, was beaten after being booked on misdemeanor charges on Feb. 4, 2006. He died two days later.

Two ex-jailers have admitted their roles in the assault in a related criminal case that remains under investigation by state and federal agents.

Four former Harrison County jail employees - Rick Gaston, Daniel Evans, Karl W. Stolze and Ryan Teel - are scheduled to go on trial Aug. 6 on federal criminal charges of conspiring to deprive the civil rights of inmates. An indictment accuses all four of conspiring to use excessive, unnecessary force and covering it up through false reports or no reports at all.

Teel also is accused in the beating of Williams.

Williams' family seeks $150 million in compensatory and punitive damages in the civil lawsuit, which also names several other defendants who have not settled. Among the other defendants are the city of Gulfport and a Gulfport police officer; the American Correctional Association; and Health Assurance LLC, a private health-care company that provides medical service at the Harrison County jail.


July 5, 2007


Four Coast jailers face trial in the 2004 beating death of Jessie Lee Williams

BILOXI Harrison County Sheriff George Payne has issued a written statement expressing his sorrow over the beating death of inmate Jessie Lee Williams.

"I truly want the Williams family to know that I am sorry for their loss, and I assure the people of Harrison County everything is being done to promote and strengthen the professionalism, training and conduct of the many fine, dedicated staff who work under the most difficult of circumstances in the Harrison County Adult Detention Center," the statement read.

The statement came Tuesday, a day after the county and the city of Gulfport settled with the Williams' estate in a civil lawsuit.

Williams, 40, was beaten after being booked on misdemeanor charges on Feb. 4, 2006. He died two days later.

Williams' family seeks $150 million in compensatory and punitive damages in the civil lawsuit from defendants who have not settled in the case.

Among the other defendants are the American Correctional Association, which has twice awarded accreditation to the Harrison County jail; and Health Assurance LLC, a private health care company that provides medical service at the Harrison County jail.

The trial is scheduled for August 2008.

Four former Harrison County jail employees - Rick Gaston, Daniel Evans, Karl W. Stolze and Ryan Teel - are scheduled to go on trial Aug. 6 on federal criminal charges of conspiring to deprive the civil rights of inmates.

An indictment accuses all four of conspiring to use excessive, unnecessary force and covering it up through false reports or no reports at all.

Teel also is accused in the beating of Williams.

Five others pleaded guilty to charges related to a conspiracy to deprive inmates of their civil rights.

They are awaiting sentencing.



Law Enforcement Brief
June 11, 2007



Authorities are investigating an apparent suicide at Mississippi's maximum security prison.

Tacoma Elmore, 29, was found hanging in his cell at Unit 32 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and later was pronounced dead Sunday at a facility hospital, according a news release from the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Elmore had been incarcerated in Mississippi since March 9, 2006, and was serving a 10-year sentence for an armed robbery, the release said.

"Elmore was housed at the maximum-security unit for a violent offense, assaultive behavior while incarcerated and an out-of-state detainer for the state of Washington," the release said.

The death is being investigated by the Correctional Investigation Division.

Elmore's death is the second unnatural death reported in Unit 32 in less than a month.

Convicted killer Boris Harper died May 30 after fellow inmate Lemarcus Lee Hillard allegedly stabbed him to death with a spear fashioned from a mop handle and a piece of metal from his toilet.

Hillard was serving time for cocaine possession with intent to distribute.


By Chris Joyner


Weapon Fashioned out of Mop Handle, Metal Lever from Cell Toilet

An inmate who killed a fellow prisoner last week in a gang-related attack at Parchman had fashioned a makeshift spear from a mop handle and stabbed his victim through the bars of his cell, Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said.

Epps said Lamarcus Lee Hillard was in his cell when he stabbed Boris Harper in the heart while Harper was cleaning the floors outside the cells in Unit 32, the maximum security facility at Mississippi State Penitentiary.

Epps said Hillard had been issued a mop to clean his own cell and detached the handle to form the shaft of the spear. He said Hillard used a metal lever from his cell toilet, sharpened by rubbing it against the cell's concrete floor, as the spear point, and stabbed Harper when he got close enough.

"All this was about was gang related, bottom line. In prison, we've got over 5,000 gang members, and all of them thugs," Epps said.

Epps would not directly name the gang affiliation involved but said "both of them are black, and the only black gangs (in Parchman) are Vice Lords."

The stabbing is the latest incident to draw attention to Unit 32. In 2005, several inmates brought a federal lawsuit against the state over conditions in Unit 32, where most inmates are kept in isolation in their cells for 23 hours a day. The state settled the lawsuit by signing a consent decree, but the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the inmates, says the state has violated the agreement by not making the changes promised in the decree.

Last month, the ACLU asked a federal judge to examine all acts of force by guards against inmates after an inmate said he was beaten with a pair of handcuffs by a guard. While an internal investigation was not able to determine exactly what happened, the guard has resigned.

Margaret Winter, an attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project, said the stabbing is an example of the unacceptable level of violence inside Unit 32.

"It's stunning that in a unit where men are locked down 23 or 24 hours a day that there is this constant violence," she said. "Violence among the inmates is unfortunately very, very frequent. The prison is very understaffed, and the staff is improperly trained."

Epps dismissed Winter's criticism.

"She doesn't know anything about corrections," he said.

Epps said the stabbing is under investigation, adding there appears to be no violation of procedure on the part of prison staff. However, Epps said he will make some changes to address the stabbing, including replacing metal parts on cell toilets and shortening the handles on mops and brooms to keep prisoners from reaching one another.

Harper was serving a life sentence for the 2001 shooting death of Rita Funderburk, a 31-year-old shopkeeper, during a robbery of Funderburk's family store in the Bobo community south of Clarksdale.

Hillard is serving a 25-year sentence for cocaine possession with intent to distribute.

Epps said Hillard has been moved to a higher-security tier with a solid metal door and total confinement. Epps said it is unlikely Hillard ever will leave the prison.

"He admitted to stabbing the guy. I've been told he has been charged," he said. "He'll die with us."

If you would like to comment on this story, contact Chris Joyner at (601) 360-4619.


Clarion Ledger
By Staff and wire reports
November 17, 2004


A woman found dead over the weekend in a Corinth jail cell hung herself, officials said.

Brandy Robinson, 27, of Corinth died of strangulation, autopsy results show. Her death has been ruled a suicide, said Warren Strain, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Corinth officials asked the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to determine whether foul play had occurred.

Robinson, arrested Saturday afternoon on a shoplifting charge, hung herself using a sheet she tied to the bars of her cell, said Assistant Corinth Police Chief David Lancaster. She was alone in her cell.

When she was being booked into jail, Lancaster said Robinson was laughing. Officers didn't think she was suicidal.

Robinson's relatives could not be reached. Generally, officers check cells every 30 minutes, Lancaster said. Robinson was alive when she was checked at 9 p.m. Saturday, according to jail logs. Officers found her dead 30 minutes later, Lancaster said.

Authorities said Robinson also was wanted in Tennessee for violating probation.


The Associated Press
April 10, 2005


PARCHMAN Mississippi corrections officials are investigating the death of inmate Jason Glen Taylor.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Frazier said Taylor, 25, was found dead Friday in Unit 32 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Unit 32 houses death row.

Details of Taylor's death were being withheld pending an investigation, she said.

Taylor was scheduled to appear in Harrison County Circuit Court on Monday on a motion for a new trial, said Assistant District Attorney Lisa Dodson.

Donald G. Rafferty, one of Taylor's attorneys, said he didn't know the details of his death, "but I am very saddened by the whole tragic event. The crime and now this have ruined a lot of people's lives."

Taylor was sentenced to death following his conviction in the Oct. 12, 2002, robbery and slaying of 18-year-old Chelle Cazeaux.

She was shot in the back and struck in the head while working alone at the General Nutrition Center near Super Wal-Mart on U.S. 49.

A Harrison County jury convicted Taylor on Nov. 6.


Information from: The Sun Herald
The Associated Press
6/11/04 8:56 AM


MOSS POINT, Miss. (AP) -- Authorities are investigating the death of an Alabama man who was found hanging by a bedsheet in the Moss Point Jail less than two hours after his arrest on Thursday.

Police Chief Michael Ricks said an independent investigation is underway into the death of 47-year-old Jerry Coleman Branpon of Mobile, Ala.

Branpon was arrested about 3:30 a.m. Thursday on charges of drunken driving, resisting arrest and destroying city property, Ricks said.

Ricks said a Moss Point police officer found the man hanging in the jail, which holds a maximum of 26 prisoners.

"The officer was able to cut him down and call for medical assistance," Ricks said.

Jackson County Coroner Vicki Broadus said the man died at the jail shortly after he was found about 5:30 a.m.

Ricks said four officers were on duty, but no jailer was monitoring because the city can't afford it.

The Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol and the Jackson County District Attorney's Office were called in to do an independent investigation.

District Attorney Tony Lawrence said the results of the investigation would be turned over to a grand jury, which would decide any criminal charges.

At the time of the arrest, the man's blood alcohol content was .23 percent -- more than twice the state's legal limit of .08 percent.

The man, Ricks said, did not appear suicidal.

"I always feel that it is a tragedy anytime someone dies, especially in police custody," Ricks said. "However, those things happen."

Ricks said he's down four officers but also needs other help.

"I feel a little disappointed that we (the city) are at a point where we don't have jailers in the jail," he said. "And I hope we get to the point when we get past that."

Ricks said he has three to four officers on a shift, but no jailer to provide round the clock supervision. Inmates are checked periodically, usually every hour, he said. The hanging is the latest incident that has drawn attention to the city jail.

The police department is still in the midst of an investigation into a woman's claim this month that she was raped by a police officer there.

Mayor Frank Lynn acknowledged last week that a woman alleged that the officer who arrested her placed her in a jail cell and later came back and raped her.

Aldermen on Monday voted behind closed doors to fire the police officer accused of the crime. He has not been charged, but has hired an attorney.

Ricks informed aldermen of the woman's claim in executive session during the June 1 Board of Aldermen meeting.

Questions also were raised about the city jail in 1999 after the much- publicized Marcus Malone case.

Malone, 32, was found dead in his jail cell two hours after he was arrested.

Three officers were charged in connection with Malone's death. One of the officers was tried and acquitted, and the charges against the other two were later dropped.


By Chris Joyner
Clarion Ledger

Families of those targeted in prison melee want answers

The last time Donald Reed Jr., spoke to his father, he told him he feared something big was going to happen inside Unit 32, the super-maximum security facility at the State Penitentiary at Parchman where he'd spent nearly half his life.

"He said he had to make a change to better his life. He had a feeling that something was fixing to come down. He said he was fixing to be moved to population," he said. "He thought it would blow over. Those were his exact words."

"Population" is the prison term for anything other than Unit 32, where inmates are kept in separate cells for 23 hours a day. Conditions in the 1,000-bed unit are at the crux of a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed on behalf of Unit 32 inmates against the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Donald Reed, Jr. never made it out of Unit 32. Wednesday, a few days after talking with his father, the 26-year-old Reed, who was serving a life sentence for murder, was stabbed to death when seven prisoners broke out of their exercise pens and set upon Reed and other inmates with fists and homemade knives.

"The way it happened ... was total negligence on behalf of the prison," the senior Reed said.

Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said the episode remains under investigation, although he said it is apparent mandatory strip searches were not performed - or weren't performed with enough care. After the fight ended, authorities found two knives, known as "shanks," fashioned from metal slats torn from air vents, their tips sharpened on the prison's concrete floors.

Tommy Boykin, a former correctional officer at Unit 32, said weapons in the hands of inmates is a common worry among guards in the facility.

"You can go in 32 today and have a mass shakedown and come back tomorrow and that offender will have a shank," he said.

Boykin said he resigned from Parchman on June 1 after being assigned back to the building in Unit 32, where inmate Boris Harper was stabbed to death by another inmate two days earlier. Now he's working as a security guard at Mississippi Delta Community College.

"It's a lot less stress," he said. "I can kind of breathe right now."

The melee Wednesday began when 17 inmates were taking their court-ordered one-hour exercise period in a series of individual cages attached to Unit 32. Epps said two inmates kicked their way out of their cages, took the keys from a correctional officer and let five other inmates out.

Those inmates then attacked the remaining prisoners who were still locked up.

The autopsy report from Sunflower County Deputy Coroner Heather Burton shows the violence of the attack. Reed suffered 16 stab wounds, but the wounds to both lungs killed him, she said.

In addition, he had 10 slash wounds.

"He had them in the head and face, slash wounds to the fingers, chest, back," she said. "The slash wounds were consistent with defensive wounds."

The attack lasted four minutes until correctional officers were on the scene. Reed was taken to the hospital on the Parchman grounds, but died 30 minutes later.

Also injured were inmates Courtney Bynum, a 33-year-old serving a 25-year sentence for rape, and Samuel Tyrone Williams, 34, who is serving 49 years for kidnapping and assault.

Williams' brother, Delvechio Williams of Tupelo, said he has been unable to get any information about his brother. The MDOC Web site indicates Williams was taken to Bolivar Medical Center in Cleveland.

"We want to know his condition," he said. "We want to know if he is safe. If he wasn't safe at a super-max, will he be safe at a hospital?"

Epps did not comment on the conditions of Bynum and Williams, citing medical privacy concerns. He said they were receiving proper medical care.


Donald Reed Sr. has a lot of questions about the attack that ended his son's life: How did inmates manage to fashion and conceal knives just a week after a massive search of every cell, triggered when correctional officers found a .380 semi-automatic handgun and two clips of ammunition in the cell of an inmate? Are proper strip searches rarely performed or were they just skipped on the day of the attack? How did the inmates get the officer's keys?

Epps asked for time to complete the investigation before commenting further on the attack. He promised accountability, starting with the top brass, if procedures were not followed.

Epps said he is responding to problems inside Unit 32 by moving gang leaders and severely mentally ill inmates to other facilities and stepping up surveillance and intelligence gathering.

Donald Reed Jr. grew up inside Parchman. On July 7, 1995, Reed, then 14, was part of a gang of five who set out to rob two men in Forest.

Scott County District Attorney Mark Duncan was an assistant district attorney at the time but had no recollection of the case. He said police reports showed it to be a crime of opportunity.

"They were just kind of hanging out, and there were some Hispanic guys nearby and they just decided to rob them," he said.

They ended up beating the men to death in the process, he said. Apart from Reed, the group included a 24-year-old man and boys aged 14, 16 and 17.

Reed pleaded guilty and accepted a life sentence. His father - who was divorced from Reed's mother and living in Indiana at the time - said Reed was scared and didn't have legal counsel when he confessed.

Once he arrived at Parchman, Reed spent a lot of time in Unit 32, his father said. Inmates with long sentences routinely are placed in Unit 32 for an initial period of observation. At 14, Reed also might have been there to protect him from other inmates.

Reed also had 40 rule violations in his nearly 12 years in prison, another reason why inmates are sent to Unit 32.

The average Unit 32 inmate has 29 violations, but some have many more. One of Reed's alleged attackers, 22-year-old Derrick Hayes, has 124 violations on his record.

Donald Reed Sr., who now is pastor of a Missionary Baptist church in Coffeeville, Ala., said he talked frequently to his son over the years about life inside Unit 32.

"He told me, 'Daddy, it's hell over here. I'm in the tightest security you can get. It's the worst,' " he said.

What amazed him was his son recently called him on a cell phone he had borrowed from another prisoner.

"They got cell phones in there," he said. "He called me from a cell phone inside maximum security. The inmates aren't bringing them in from the streets, so how are they coming in?"

Boykin said there is a lot about conditions inside Unit 32 that would surprise people. Boykin said even Epps, who was working at Parchman when the unit opened in 1990, does not know everything that goes on.

"I have a lot of respect for him. He started off as an officer, so he knows what corrections is," Boykin said. "You have no idea what I went through out there on the tier."


The Associated Press
July 27, 2007


Second autopsy finds Coast inmate was strangled, didn't die of natural causes

Harrison County District Attorney Cono Caranna wants federal authorities to take a look at the death of an inmate after the prisoner's family got a second autopsy that found the man did not die of natural causes.

The family of Lee Demond Smith, 21, obtained a second opinion that claims the Biloxi resident died of strangulation.

The opinion, for which the family reportedly paid Dr. Matthias Okoye of Nebraska $9,000, conflicts with the Harrison County coroner's ruling.

Coroner Gary Hargrove said Smith died Dec. 17 of pulmonary embolism, or blood clots in the lungs. He ruled the death to be by natural causes after an autopsy performed by Dr. Paul McGarry, the forensic pathologist who performs most autopsies on the coast.

Hargrove has said he stands by the ruling. Smith's family suspects foul play and a cover-up.

Hargrove, who has ruled another inmate death - that of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. - a homicide, said his ruling in the Smith case included eyewitness accounts and underlying circumstances.

At least one prisoner says inmates and deputies alike tried to save Smith when he started convulsing in a common area of their cell block.

Dr. Okoye could not be reached for comment. Okoye is a forensic pathologist, an attorney and director of the Nebraska Forensic Medical Services and the Nebraska Institute of Forensic Sciences Inc. A Biloxi Sun Herald review shows he often provides a second opinion on autopsies.

Caranna gave the Sun Herald a copy of a letter to U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton. According to the letter, the state completed its investigation into Smith's death, but Caranna requested a federal review at the request of Smith's family.

"In light of recent events resulting in the arrest of several Harrison County jailers on the charges of violating inmates' civil rights," the letter says, "I can appreciate the family's concern and join their request for a thorough federal investigation and review to be conducted."

Lampton's office did not return a phone call for comment.


Kelly Duda and Concrete Films have produced a documentary which details the corruption and greed that led the Arkansas Department of Correction to spread death from Arkansas prisons to the entire world. Hear the story from the mouths of those responsible for the harvesting of infected human blood plasma, and its sale to be made into medicines.

Duda's award-winning film unflinchingly documents the whole story the U.S. government and the state of Arkansas have tried to keep hidden from the world.

Click the photo of Kelly Duda at work to order your own copy of
"Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal"

Click the photo of Kelly Duda at work to visit the
Factor 8 Documentary website

Please help spread the word about this important film,
along with the urls to the linked pages.

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