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Calls for reform at 201 Poplar reignited after the death of Gershun Freeman

Family attorneys say video footage shows Gershun Freeman being kicked and beaten while naked.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family of Tyre Nichols, is joining the family of another Memphis man. 

Gershun Freeeman died in the Shelby County Jail in October of 2022. Crump now calls for a federal investigation into that death. 

An autopsy shows Gershun Freeman had multiple bruises and deep cuts when he died, and a coroner ruled his death a homicide. 

Attorneys for his family say this issue is worth caring about as the family and local activists are once again calling for transparency and reform at 201 Poplar.  

"They killed my boy," George Burks, Gurshun’s father, said. "My boy didn’t deserve that."  

Freeman family attorney Jake Brown said there is video showing Freeman naked, officers coming to his cell, then freeman outside of the cell. 

Still, how he got out of the cell is still unknown. While out of his cell, attorneys for the family allege that he was beaten.

“A number of correctional officers descended on him," Brown said. "Instead of taking reasonable measures to apprehend with a minimum of risk, they began striking Gershun repeatedly. They struck him with their fists, they struck him with batons." 

There have long been calls for reform at 201 Poplar. Local organization Just City often leads the charge.

"In a correctional facility, deaths should be very rare if it’s run correctly — if it’s staffed correctly," Just City executive director Josh Spickler said  

According to the most recent data shared by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, in 2020; 9 people died while in their custody, 10 died in 2021 and 11 died in 2022 (as of October of that year). This number includes Mr. Freeman. 

Attorney Brown said just one death is too many.

"It’s gotten worse and to all appearances, the current leadership of the jail and the sheriff's department does not have their own house in order," Brown said. "There’s history at the Shelby County jail."

A history that Splickler says needs reform in three immediate ways. 

“A reduction in the population of that jail," Spickler said is a first step. "There are far too many people in that jail on lower-level offenses who will show up to court who are not a risk to our community.”  

Along with upgrading personnel training, Spickler advocates reevaluating how health and mental care are administered. 

"We contract with a private company — a for-profit company — to offer healthcare in our jail, and so that incentivizes that company to limit its expenses and by expenses, I mean healthcare," Spickler said. 

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