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Conditions at 201 Poplar questioned in wake of Gershun Freeman video

The video is about 13 minutes long and shows the moments that lead to Freeman's death, which was officially ruled a homicide early last month.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a video released by the Nashville district attorney's office Thursday, an altercation can be seen that took place at 201 Poplar, leading to the death of 33-year-old Gershun Freeman. 

Freeman died in the Shelby County Jail back in October after this altercation with corrections officers.

The video shows multiple correctional officers involved in the deadly beating of Freeman. 

Released Thursday night, the video about 13 minutes long and shows the moments that lead to his death which was officially ruled a homicide early last month.  

“We’re not complaining about the thread count of their sheets or the temperature of their meals," family attorney Jake Brown said last month. "We’re talking about basic, fundamental safety and human dignity. Mr. Freeman died because he was deprived of that dignity."

Freeman’s official cause of death was listed as cardiac arrest caused by complications from a physical altercation at 201 Poplar in the nearly 13-minute video after that altercation ensues. 

"To all appearances, the current leadership of the jail and sheriff's department does not have their own house in order," Brown said. "This sort of thing happens far far too often at 201 Poplar.”

In the video, freeman is restrained on the ground with at least one officer kneeling on his back for about four minutes until Freeman's body stops moving. 

It takes about another three minutes for medical personnel to reach him. 

District attorney Steve Mulroy said this incident opens up, once again, a broader conversation about reforms needed in the jail.

"Without characterizing this particular instance — just as I think there’s a need for us to pay attention to police reform, I think there’s a need for us to pay attention to the conditions at 201 Poplar," Mulroy said. “Remember these are people, almost all, who have not been convicted of any crime. They have been accused of a crime, [but] they have not been convicted.”  

Attorney Michael Working communicates with some defendants firsthand at 201 Poplar. Working said “there’s 2,500 families in Memphis and Shelby County that have a member of their family in that jail, and they're [all] very worried about that person.”  

It's a worry that Working said could be eased with more resources.  

“Many of them, most — their best qualification is that they’re big strong men who can keep their temper, right?" Working said. "They’re not trained in mental health resources. They’re not trained in how to deal with people who come into jail that are in total crisis.” 

Along with more concentrated mental health resources, D.A. Mulroy hopes bail reform eases the population burden.  

"The jail population needs to be reduced," Mulroy said. "The jail has had for a long-time staffing issue — recruitment issues. We need to do everything we can, consistent with public safety, to keep the jail population down to a minimum.”  

Shelby county sheriff Floyd Bonner released this statement:

"According to the Medical Examiner, Mr. Gershun Freeman suffered from psychosis and cardiovascular disease and died of a heart attack while being restrained. It is unfortunate that parts of the video are being shown out of context because the full video does show the erratic and violent behavior that led to the need to restrain Mr. Freeman. 

These corrections officers deserve a fair review of this case, and I will wait for additional information from the TBI and the investigating D.A. before taking further administrative action. This is still an open and active investigation."

The sheriff was not able to interview as of press time to discuss what exactly makes the video released “out of context.”

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