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Family of Black man killed in Memphis jail wants guards to be held accountable

Published 03/17/2023, 03:45 PM
Updated 03/17/2023, 03:52 PM
© Reuters. Kim Freeman, the mother of Gershun Freeman, listens as civil rights attorney Ben Crump (not pictured) speaks during a news conference with the family of Gershun Freeman, a Black man whose death in custody at the Shelby County Jail in October 2022 has been

By Tyler Clifford and Rich McKay

(Reuters) - The family of a Black man who died while in a Memphis jail on Friday called on authorities to identify the correctional officers involved in the altercation that killed him and to hold them accountable.

Gershun Freeman, 33, died on Oct. 2 at the Shelby County, Tennessee, jail after being beaten by guards and held prone on the ground with a knee on his back for more than five minutes while handcuffed. Video of the incident was made public earlier this month.More than five months after his death, the family is still seeking answers and justice, his mother, Kimberly Freeman, said at a press conference outside the county jail where her son was held.

"I want justice for my son, but I also want to know who are the people that murdered my son. They have blood on their hands," she said.

The case has garnered more national attention since the Jan. 7 beating death of another Black man, Tyre Nichols, by Memphis police officers who are now charged with murder.

The Shelby County sheriff's office has said it would take no action against officers involved in the Freeman case until investigations are completed, local media reported.

The video clips made public were taken out of context and failed to include the "erratic and violent behavior" that led to Freeman being restrained, Sheriff Floyd Bonner said.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident, while the Shelby County District Attorney office handed the case over to the Nashville District Attorney Office to avoid a conflict of interest.

The Nashville district attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The family has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation into Freeman's death.

The family's legal team, led by high-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump, said Freeman's death was another example of an unarmed Black man killed without reason at the hands of law enforcement.

Nichols' family, who is also represented by Crump, joined Freeman's relatives at the news conference.

Attorney Jake Brown called on the sheriff's office to follow the lead of the Memphis Police Department, which suspended or fired several officers prior to criminal charges being filed over Nichols' beating death.

"Unfortunately, it is the opposite of what we are seeing now from Sheriff Floyd Bonner, who has publicly announced that he is taking no administrative action against the officers involved on that video," Brown said.

© Reuters. Kim Freeman, the mother of Gershun Freeman, listens as civil rights attorney Ben Crump (not pictured) speaks during a news conference with the family of Gershun Freeman, a Black man whose death in custody at the Shelby County Jail in October 2022 has been classified as a homicide, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 17, 2023.  REUTERS/Karen Pulfer Focht

Released earlier this month, 14 minutes of video show the violent altercation between jail guards and Freeman that ended with his death. Freeman had been taken into custody four days earlier on charges of aggravated kidnapping and domestic violence.

The clip shows officers punching, kicking and pepper-spraying Freeman as they attempted to subdue him, attorneys said.

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