Jay-Z attorney says inmate tried to hang self in Parchman prison cell

Published 5:59 am Monday, February 3, 2020

An inmate tried to hang himself at a troubled Mississippi prison and was taken down by a state trooper, an attorney said in court papers filed Saturday.

Casey L. Austin is one of the attorneys representing inmates in a federal lawsuit against Mississippi over conditions in the state’s prisons. The lawsuit over prison conditions is funded by Team Roc, a philanthropic group connected to entertainment mogul Jay-Z’s company, Roc Nation.

Austin wrote that he was inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to interview inmates Friday when the incident occurred.

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“At approximately 2:00 p.m., I heard a Mississippi State Trooper tell the Unit 29 lobby Correctional Officer that he had just ‘cut one down,'” Austin wrote. “He then explained to Correctional Officer that he had cut down an inmate who had tried to hang himself in his cell.”

The trooper also said he had taken pictures of the incident and sent them to a captain, Austin wrote. An ambulance arrived about 15 minutes later, the attorney wrote.

The Associated Press on Saturday sent questions about the inmate’s condition to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher responded that the department is “investigating those statements” by Austin.

Austin did not identify the inmate who tried to hang himself and did not give information about the man’s condition.

At least 14 inmates have died in Mississippi prisons since late December, most of them at Parchman. Many of them were killed in outbursts of violence.

Two inmates died by hanging, and prison officials said one of those was alone in a cell with the lock jammed from the inside. A Department of Corrections statement said the other hanging appeared to be a suicide.

Austin also wrote in papers filed Saturday that he saw Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch at Parchman on Friday with about 20 people, including armed state troopers. He said they went into Unit 29, an area where much of the violence has occurred.

Gov. Tate Reeves said in his State of the State speech on Monday that he has told the Department of Corrections to take steps to shut down Unit 29, but the department has not said how long that will take.

The department’s interim commissioner, Tommy Taylor, said after Reeves’ speech that inmates in Unit 29 now have clean water to drink and warm water for showers.

He said some inmates had not been allowed to shower for several days while prisons were on lockdown because of the violence. He said those no longer on lockdown have had a chance to shower and have been given new clothes.

Taylor also said toilets have been repaired, and crews are patching holes that allowed rain into buildings. He said workers are also repairing problems with electrical systems and heating.

Violence is a recurring problem in Mississippi prisons, where many jobs for guards are unfilled. Health department inspections also show Parchman has longstanding problems with broken sinks and toilets in cells, holes in cell walls, widespread mold and mildew in showers and sanitation problems in kitchens.

More than two dozen Parchman inmates filed the federal lawsuit Jan. 14, saying understaffed prisons are “plagued by violence” and inmates are forced to live in decrepit and dangerous conditions.