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Disturbing footage shows officer taunting inmate before in-custody death

“You shouldn’t be able to breathe,” an officer told the man as he restrained him.

William Jennette Video Screenshot

The family of a Tennessee man who died in police custody is taking legal action. As CBS News reported, the relatives of William Jennette have filed a lawsuit against the deputies at Marshall County Jail, the county and the city of Lewisburg.

On May 4, 2020, Jennette was placed in police custody after he was arrested for public intoxication, indecent exposure and resisting arrest. Two days later, per the lawsuit, he started beating his fists against his cell door. He eventually got the attention of officers, who were captured peacefully escorting him out of his cell.

The suit claims that one deputy then pushed Jennette back to the end of the hall where three other deputies pressed him into a wall before another cop hit him a few times. Footage of the fatal encounter shows as they all attempted to put him in a restraint chair just as they’d done the day before after he banged his head on the cell wall. When a Lewisburg officer arrived, Jennette expressed his fears that the deputies were “gonna kill” him.

Despite his pleas, the officer and a deputy tackled Jennette facedown to the ground. The officer placed his knee on the inmate’s back as the deputy tried to put him in handcuffs. According to the lawsuit, the late man begged, “Let me up or I’m going to die,” to which the officer responded, “Stay down, you stupid son of a bitch” while pushing his face to the floor. The officer — whose weight made it hard for Jennette to breathe — requested leg restraints, which he placed the man in. The suit claims Jennette was restrained in a “hogtied” position in which he was unable to move or breathe.

When he complained that he had difficulty breathing, he was told, “You shouldn’t be able to breathe.” The deputy then threatened to break his foot.

Though he was restrained, the officer kept his weight on Jennette for four minutes, noting he was “not on his lungs” so that he would be able to breathe. The suit claims that when he got up and turned Jennette over, however, he was “purple and lifeless.” All life-saving measures proved to be unsuccessful. Autopsy results indicated Jennette’s death was the result of a homicide, noting he died of a combination of methamphetamine and an antihistamine. Asphyxiation was listed as a contributing factor.

The family is now suing the Marshall County deputies and Lewisburg police officers for their excessive use of force against Jennette, who they say was not resisting. They dispute the autopsy results as they believe he passed away after being suffocated to death.

No criminal charges were filed against the involved officers.

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