MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Attorney Ben Crump and the family of Gershun Freeman, joined by the family of Tyre Nichols, addressed the media Friday, breaking down the video showing the in-custody altercation which led to Freeman's death at 201 Poplar in October.
Crump said the video was "alarming," and showed a serious lack of treatment for people dealing with mental health issues.
"I don't know what's going on in America where law enforcement treats mental health issues like criminal issues," Crump said.
Attorney Jake Brown, joining Crump in representing Freeman's family, went into detail on some of the aspects of the video showing his death, saying some of the deputies shown beating Freeman were wearing brass knuckles, and pointing out a lack of action from the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, who runs the facility.
"Those deputies are still in charge of detainees at 201," Brown said. "We need to see [Sheriff Floyd] Bonner start taking misconduct seriously."
Attorney Brice Timmons explained the reason Freeman is naked in the video is because he was on suicide watch - but no mental health professionals ever encountered him in the video until he was already beaten by the deputies.
"If he was behaving erratically, why did they open the cell door instead of calling for medical professionals?" Timmons said.
He also said the Shelby County Jail has a serious lack of mental health resources available for inmates despite the vast number of mental health cases seen by the jail. According to Timmons, the jail has no psychologist on staff.
Kimberly Freeman, Gershun's mother, said she wants answers for her son's death, and wants to know the names of the deputies involved in the altercation.
"They get to go home to their families, but I have to see my son in a box," Freeman said. "Bring these people to the front of the courthouse, we want answers. They murdered him in this hell hole."
RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, Tyre Nichols' mother and stepfather, were also present at the press conference, showing their support for the Freeman family.
"I can just imagine what [Kimberly Freeman] is going through, because I know what I'm going through," RowVaughn Wells said. "She lost her only child to police violence. No mother should ever have to bury their child as we have."
Shelby County Sheriff's Office response
The Shelby County Sheriff's Office released the following statement early Friday evening following the family's news conference:
"In light of significant misinformation presented regarding the tragic death of Gershun Freeman during the press conference today, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office must reply with some facts:
- Immediate action was taken by the Sheriff the night of the incident in October 2022. Per protocol, DA Mulroy and TBI were contacted that night to begin the investigation.
- Also, that night all officers who had contact with Mr. Freeman were relieved of duty and remain in that status today.
- Jail health care is provided by the Shelby County Mayor’s administration. Decisions about the type and numbers of health care professionals employed in the jail are determined by the Mayor’s administration, not the Sheriff.
“'t’s unfortunate this case is being tried in the media before the review is complete,' said Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr.
Sheriff Bonner recently obtained a commitment from the State Mental Health Commissioner to double the number of beds for jail inmates at the Memphis Mental Health Institute."
What the video shows
The jail surveillance video showing the moments which led to the death of Gershun Freeman at the Shelby County Jail in October 2022 were released earlier this month by the Nashville District Attorney's Office.
The video shows multiple correctional officers were involved in the deadly beating of Freeman, whose official cause of death was listed as cardiac arrest caused by complications from a physical altercation.
Freeman is shown lunging at one correctional officer (C.O.) after he opened his jail cell to deliver food. That C.O. sprayed pepper spray at Freeman while another C.O. took Freeman to the ground.
As many as 10 C.O.'s flood into the hall where the scuffle ensues, and several C.O.'s are shown having to be restrained by others from joining the fight.
Eventually, Freeman gets away, and a short chase happens up an escalator before a correctional officer backs him into a wall and wrestles him onto the ground.
Several guards restrain Freeman on the ground, at least one kneeling on his back, for about four minutes until Freeman's body stops moving.
It then takes another three minutes for medical personnel to reach Freeman.
What Memphis officials have said about the case
The Shelby County District Attorney's Office referred to an earlier statement they made when they asked the Nashville D.A.'s office to inspect the case:
"Shortly after learning of the death of Mr. Freeman, D.A. Steve Mulroy called in Nashville D.A. Glenn Funk's office, as an independent prosecutor to investigate the case. We are confident in D.A. Funk and his team to provide a thorough investigation."
Attorney Ben Crump, representing Freeman's family, released a statement following the video release:
“The death of Gershun Freeman is yet another shocking example of police brutality in the Memphis and Shelby County criminal justice systems. The newly released footage is visual evidence that at least 10 officers brutalized and beat Gershun to death, when he was naked and clearly suffering from a mental health crisis. Gershun’s family thanks District Attorney Glenn Funk’s office for their transparency in this, and we are confident that their office will bring these officers to justice on the criminal side.”
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr., whose office operates the jail, released the following statement previously:
"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 DA before taking further administrative action. This is still an open and active investigation."
An autopsy shows Gershun Freeman had multiple bruises and deep cuts when he died, and a coroner ruled his death a homicide.
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 Freeman.