MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Nine deputies were charged on Wednesday in connection with the death of a Black man who died in custody in a Memphis jail after jailers allegedly punched, kicked and kneeled on his back during a confrontation last October, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said.
Gershun Freeman, 33, died inside the Shelby County Jail after an encounter with jailers on October 5, 2022, WMC-TV reported. According to an autopsy, Freeman suffered cardiac arrest while he was restrained. His manner of death has been classified as a homicide, according to the television station.
Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk announced the nine indictments against the deputies, who work for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported. Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the death.
The Nashville DA’s office was chosen by a panel of district attorneys to head the investigation after Mulroy recused himself from the case.
Two officers, Stevon Jones and Courtney Parham, were charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault while acting in concert with others, according to court records. Jones was also charged with assault causing bodily harm, according to the newspaper.
Jeffrey Gibson, Anthony Howell, Lareko Elliot, Damian Cooper, Ebonee Davis and Chelsey Duckett were charged with aggravated assault resulting in the death of another, according to court records.
The identity of the ninth officer has not been released.
The indictments were handed down on Tuesday and announced on Wednesday.
Bonner defended his deputies during a news conference on Wednesday.
“Let me be clear, no actions by any Shelby County Sheriff’s Office employee caused Mr. Freeman’s death,” Bonner told reporters. “The medical examiner plainly said that he died from a pre-existing heart condition.”
Bonner told reporters that the officers were on paid leave and that he will “be the first to donate” any fundraising opportunities for their legal costs.
The sheriff, who is running for mayor of Memphis, labeled the indictments as “political,” the Commercial Appeal reported.
“I want this community to know that I stand with these officers,” Bonner said. “I believe that if I were not running for another office, these indictments never would have happened, and I find this despicable.”
Attorneys representing Freeman’s family in a civil lawsuit disputed Bonner’s claims, the Commercial Appeal reported.
“He’s lying,” said attorney Jake Brown, who was cut off by attorney Brice Timmons, who is also representing the family.
“He’s not lying,” Timmons said. “He’s responsible. He supports his officers. He creates these policies. He is personally and directly responsible for the death of Gershun Freeman.”
Freeman had been booked in jail on Oct. 1 on charges of attacking and kidnapping his girlfriend, according to The Associated Press.
A video from the jail shows two corrections officers serving meals to inmates in a narrow hallway, the news organization reported. When Freeman’s cell opens, he runs out unclothed and appears to charge at the officers.
The officers take him to the ground and begin to punch, kick and use pepper spray on him, according to the video. At that point, they are joined by more officers.
He begins running through various hallways, and an officer eventually catches up to Freeman and pushes him against a wall, the Commercial Appeal reported.
Freeman was finally handcuffed and placed face down on the ground. When Freeman began to move again, one officer allegedly placed his knee on Freeman’s upper back for approximately six minutes before he was moved upright.