By Brendan O’Brien
Nine Memphis-area deputies have been indicted in the killing of a Black man who died after he was beaten by guards and held prone on the ground in a county jail a year ago, the local sheriff said.
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said on Wednesday during a news conference that a local district attorney has obtained indictments against nine of his corrections officers in the death of Gershun Freeman, 33, on Oct. 2.
Bonner did not disclose details about the indictments but local news reported that two of the officers face second-degree murder and aggravated assault charges while the other seven face aggravated assault charges.
“Let me be clear, no actions by any Shelby County Sheriff’s Office employee caused Mr. Freeman’s death … I stand with these officers,” Bonner said during the news conference, adding that the medical examiner determined that Freeman died from a pre-existing heart condition.
The case has garnered more national attention since the Jan. 7 beating death of another Black man, Tyre Nichols, by Memphis police officers who are now charged with murder.
The legal team for Freeman’s family, led by high-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump, said his death was another example of an unarmed Black man killed without reason at the hands of law enforcement.
Nashville-Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk is handling the case against the officers after Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy recused himself. Bonner is running for mayor in Memphis and Mulroy endorsed his opponent.
Funk’s office was not immediately available for comment.
Bonner claimed that the indictments are intended to hurt him politically. Bonner also took exception to Funk releasing edited video footage of the incident in March, saying it was taken out of context and failed to include the “erratic and violent behavior” that led to Freeman being restrained.
The 14 minutes of video shows officers punching, kicking and pepper-spraying Freeman as they attempted to subdue him. It also shows Freeman prone on the ground with a knee on his back for more than five minutes.
Freeman had been taken into custody four days earlier on charges of aggravated kidnapping and domestic violence.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)