NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The parents of a black man who was having a psychotic episode and died in custody last fall after Memphis jailers beat, kicked and kneed him on his back during a confrontation are seeking answers for their son and punishments against jail staff. the jail.
At a news conference in Memphis on Friday, the mother of Gershun Freeman, 33, said her son had “a lot of dreams, a lot of admiration” and that he cared about people. Kimberly Freeman said that she wants justice for her son and she wants to know who the jailers are.
“They have blood on their hand,” Kimberly Freeman said. “They go home every night with their family. Whereas for me and my granddaughter, we have to see my son, his father, in a box.”
Gershun Freeman’s father, George Burks, added that he wants to see the officers “punished, brought to justice.”
The Nashville District Attorney’s office released video earlier this month of Freeman in the Shelby County Jail in Memphis.
The video shows that Freeman was beaten by at least 10 corrections officers on October 5 after he ran naked from his cell. His lawyers say he was also beaten with handcuffs, jail key rings and pepper spray canisters.
Freeman had “psychosis and cardiovascular disease and died of a heart attack while immobilized,” Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said in a statement earlier this month, citing the medical examiner’s report.
Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Freeman’s family, called the case “another video of an unarmed black man killed by police here in Shelby County, Tennessee.”
The city has been rocked by the fatal beating of Tire Nichols by Memphis police in January. The black motorist was punched, beaten with a baton, kicked and pepper sprayed during an arrest that was recorded on video. His death led to the firing of seven police officers, including the five officers who have since been charged with second-degree murder, plus three firings from the fire department. Crump also represents the Nichols family. Nichols’ family members were also present at Thursday’s news conference.
“I don’t know what’s going on in the United States, where law enforcement feels like they can treat mental health issues like they’re criminal issues, especially if they’re disenfranchised people of color, especially if they’re black men,” Crump said.
Freeman’s manner of death is listed as homicide on the West Tennessee Regional Forensics Center autopsy report, though the report says this is “not intended to definitively indicate criminal intent.”
In his statement, the Shelby County Sheriff said it was unfortunate that the video did not show the entire episode. The video has been edited and includes multiple camera angles in different parts of the jail.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s office has called the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate the death. He has asked the Nashville District Attorney General’s Office to act as an independent prosecutor in the case.
The sheriff has said he will “wait for additional information from the TBI and the investigating district attorney before taking any further administrative action.”
Freeman was jailed Oct. 1 on charges of attacking and kidnapping his girlfriend, according to court records.
The video begins with two prison officers serving meals to inmates in a narrow hallway. When Freeman’s cell is opened, he runs out naked and appears to charge the officers.
The officers throw him to the ground and begin punching, kicking and pepper spraying him. They are joined by other officers. The agents move with Freeman out of the hallway. From another camera view, we see Freeman wrapping himself around the legs of an officer in a different hallway.
The video cuts to a bank of escalators and Freeman, still naked, runs up one of them. In another hallway, he continues to wrestle with the officers who try to hold him down before putting him face down on the floor. He can be seen stepping and kneeling on his back before he stands still. An officer remained on Freeman’s back for several minutes before he was picked up.
He appears limp as the officers lift him up, his head drooping forward between his knees and his hands cuffed behind his back. He remains in that position until the medical workers arrive and the video ends.