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Prison worker says excessive pepper spray may have killed inmate

A prison worker says the amount of pepper spray used was excessive, and that officers knowingly and intentionally put the inmate’s life in jeopardy.

Eddie Burkhalter

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It’s not yet clear what caused the death of 38-year-old Darnell McMillian after he was pepper sprayed inside an Alabama prison last month, but a prison worker says the amount of pepper spray used was excessive, and that officers knowingly and intentionally put his life in jeopardy.

Some time around 6 p.m. on June 22, three correctional officers placed McMillian in suicide cell S-11, with an inmate who was known to be aggressive and who was already on suicide watch, according to a prison worker with knowledge of the incident, who reached out to APR to discuss the death because the person said it troubled them.

The ADOC worker asked not to be identified because the person is still employed with the department.

“He shouldn’t have been doubled up with somebody,” the worker said of the aggressive inmate already in cell S-11. “It was very clear that the person in that cell was threatening.”

The worker said the officers enticed the two men to fight, and once the inmate began threatening McMillian, McMillian took the first swing to hit the man.

The three officers standing outside then deployed a pepper spray called Cell Buster into the cell, the worker said. Cell Buster is a potent spray used by correctional staff and produced by the Chicago-based company Sabre.

“The inmate was yelling that he couldn’t breathe,” the employee said. “One Cell Buster is enough to do a lot of damage. There were three officers present at the time of this, and there were three cans of Cell Busters sprayed.”

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The employee said that once McMillian was pulled from the cell, he was almost unconscious and then “went completely unconscious, because he was coughing and aspirating.”

The cell was then cleaned by inmates, except for some spots of blood, which the worker said might make it appear to have been a homicide by the other inmate, but the worker said several staff members at the prison believe the death may have been caused by excessive use of pepper spray.

“He was on his back when they were getting him to the infirmary, which can also cause asphyxiation, especially if he’s coughing and saying he can’t breathe. That spray can make you vomit,” the worker said.

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While there are video cameras that record each suicide cell, the worker said they do not believe there is footage from cell S-11 during the time of McMillian’s death. The employee said they’ve been through many incidents in the prison but that “this one seems pretty bad.”

The worker said it’s not clear why the officers encouraged a fight between the other inmate and McMillian, but from experience, the person said some officers will do so when an inmate angers them.

The employee said when they read APR’s first article on McMillian’s death, and there was little information on what happened, they decided to reach out.

“I’d rather share it and put it out there,” the person said. Some details of what the worker said were corroborated by the Jefferson County Coroner’s office.

Jefferson County Coroner Bill Yates told APR on Thursday that McMillian’s final cause of death awaits results from the autopsy, which can take between four and six weeks, but that there did not appear to be any external injuries that could have caused his death.

McMillian was pronounced dead at Donaldson prison at 7:49 p.m. on June 22, Yates said.

Yates, reading from his notes on the incident, said that in the moments before his death, there appeared to be a physical altercation between McMillian and another inmate, and that correctional officers used pepper spray to stop the fight.

“Obviously, Department of Corrections staff is going to step in to stop that, and it’s my understanding that after that, he was having complaints of not being able to breath,” Yates said. “I think they used — there was some pepper spray that was used to stop that, and he immediately went, from our understanding, to the infirmary.”

“From our autopsy, I don’t believe we found any type of trauma that would explain death,” Yates said.

His office is awaiting lab results, to include toxicology and other lab work to determine if drugs or an unknown medical condition may have been factors in his death, Yates said. McMillian didn’t have a history of any heart conditions, but Yates said lab results could reveal one if in fact he had a condition.

Asked if it’s possible to die from exposure to a large amount of pepper spray, Yates said “I haven’t heard of it, not to say it can’t happen.”

“I think you could pass away from extreme amounts of anything,” Yates said, but he’s never known of a death that resulted from large exposures to pepper spray.

Yates said there have been no reports to his office of any other inmate in that cell, or any ADOC staff, experiencing health problems as a result of the incident.

A 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice on the use of pepper spray by police and corrections staff in North Carolina found that two cases of the 63 studied resulted in death from the use of pepper spray, and that both incarcerated persons who died had asthma. In only one of those cases, however, a large amount of pepper spray was used on the man, and the positioning of the man’s body may have been a factor as well.

“Pepper spray was used more times in this case than in any other, but according to police officers, it was ineffective. The subject, who was obese, was handcuffed behind his back and placed in a facedown position when being transported,” the report states. “The difficulty of breathing in this position may have been compounded by the damage already done to his airways.”

In June, a 35-year-old inmate named Jamel Floyd died after correctional officers at a federal prison in Brooklyn used pepper spray after he had barricaded himself in his cell. He was unresponsive when removed from his cell and prison staff were unable to revive him, according to CNN. The death was under investigation and the U.S. Marshals and the FBI were notified, according to a release by the Metropolitan Detention Center.

According to the Sabre’s own promotional video, Cell Buster is to be used in three-second bursts, with the correctional officer checking after each burst to determine if the “desired effects” have been produced, before using it for another 3-second burst. Cell Buster’s description states that the product “delivers pain, irritation, inflammation, coughing, temporary blindness and redness of skin.”

ADOC spokeswoman Linda Mays in a message to APR on Thursday said that the department’s Law Enforcement Services Division is investigating all aspects of the incident.

“While we would like to address your questions and provide insight that would be helpful to you, at this juncture in the process we simply cannot provide information that would compromise the integrity of our ongoing investigation. More information will be available upon the conclusion of our investigation into Daniel [sic] McMillian’s death,” Mays wrote.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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SEC moving forward with football even as the PAC 12, Big 10 postpone season

Brandon Moseley

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Bryant-Denny Stadium during an Alabama football game.

Tuesday, the Big 10 and PAC 12 conference presidents both voted to postpone all fall sports including football to the spring. The decision follows similar decisions by the Ivey League, SWAC (which includes Alabama State and Alabama A&M), University of Connecticut, MAC, and Mountain West. Four of the ten Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences will not be playing this fall including two of the Power Five conferences. Despite this the Southeastern Conference (SEC), which includes both the University of Alabama and Auburn University, announced that they are moving forward with the football season.

“I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement Tuesday evening. :I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes.”

“We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day,” Sankey said.

The PAC 12 and Big 10 conferences made the decision based on advice from the conference’s medical advisory boards. The fatality rate of COVID-19 among college age people is miniscule; however college students can and do get COVID-19. One side effect of surviving COVID-19 is myocarditis, a heart inflammation. Myocarditis is a weakening of the tissue between the chambers of the heart. It is treatable; but is irreversible. Once those tissues are weakened; they will remain weakened causing a number of health challenges for victims over the course of the remainder of their lives. It can lead to premature death.

Sources say that at least five Big 10 athletes have been diagnosed with myocarditis after surviving a bout with COVID-19. https://www.yahoo.com/now/report-at-least-five-big-ten-athletes-found-to-have-heart-inflammation-potentially-caused-by-viral-infections-224809885.html

Sankey told Dan Patrick that the conference has “been given the greenlight” from their medical advisory board. The ACC and Big 12 are also moving forward with plans to play football this fall.

SEC teams will open their fall camps on August 17. The SEC has already reduced the season to ten conference only games and moved back the start of the season from September 5 to Sept. 26. The move gives the conference more time to make a decision.

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The conference is under political pressure from fans, players, coaches, and even President Donald J. Trump (R) to play football this season.

“We Must Do Everything Possible to Have Football this Year,” said former Montgomery Quarterback Club President and the father of three former Auburn football players Perry O. Hooper Jr. “We need College football this fall, period. It would be a terrible disservice to these young student/athletes who have worked so hard for so many years to throw in the towel without trying. This is not the American way.”

President Trump said, “Canceling the college football season would be a tragic mistake.”

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“The SEC has it right, Start the schedule in late September with a conference only schedule with a set of protocols in place to be monitored by the SEC office,” Hooper said. “The College football hierarchy must listen to the players, the vast majority want to play.”

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence stated, “We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football. Having a season also incentivizes players being safe and taking all the right precautions to try to avoid contracting Covid because the season/ teammates safety is on the line. Without the season, as we have seen already, people will not social distance or wear masks and take the proper precautions.”

The Big 10 presidents voted to postpone fall sports to the spring; but the PAC 12 presidents went even further and voted to suspend all sports till at least January 1, 2021. This move impacts winter sports including basketball. College basketball players already lost the 2020 NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in March due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The decision by the PAC 12 and Big 10 conferences leave the college football postseason in shambles. There can be no playoffs without two of the Big Five conferences and with at least four of the ten major college conferences not playing it will be impossible to find enough teams with winning records to fill half the bowl spots. It is not at all certain that any of the bowls will actually be played.

167,671 Americans have already died from the COVID-19 global pandemic. 2,756,157 have recovered from their bought with the novel coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2. Now we are learning that some of those COVID survivors are facing debilitating conditions moving forward. It is heart inflammation for some and loss of some lung function for others.

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Tuberville says he is not surprised that Biden selected “a socialist like Kamala Harris”

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (VIA TUBERVILlE CAMPAIGN)

Tuesday, Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville blasted presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for his selection of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) as his vice presidential pick.

“It’s no surprise that Joe Biden has selected a Socialist Democrat like Kamala Harris as his VP pick,” Coach Tuberville said. “Harris is as far left as it gets, and my opponent, Doug Jones, stands side-by-side with her on almost every critical issue.”

“They’ve voted time and again for late-term abortion, gun-grabbing laws, open borders legislation, and other far-left agenda items,” Tuberville said. “We must not let Socialists like Doug Jones and Kamala Harris take over our country! #MAGA #KAG2020 #TrumpAndTuberville #ALSen.”

The Trump campaign came out punching in response to the announcement that Harris would be the vice presidential pick.

In an email to supporters, President Donald J. Trump (R) wrote, “Wow. Just when we thought the idea of Joe Biden being President of the United States couldn’t get any worse, he announces that Kamala Harris, a failed presidential candidate and a corrupt former California Attorney General, will be his running mate.”

“First, Kamala Harris attacked Joe Biden’s racist policies (did she forget?),Trump continued. “Next, she ends her pathetic run at President. Then, 3 months after ending her own campaign, she reluctantly endorses Biden. After that, Biden gets accused of sexual assault, so he vows to choose a woman as his VP. And now, Sleepy Joe announces Phony Kamala as his running mate.”

“These two liberals are as far-left as they come,” Trump charged. “Between both of their terrible records, it’s obvious that this radical duo is PERFECT for each other but WRONG for America. They are WEAK on crime and want to see our cities burn, unlike President Trump and Vice President Pence who are working tirelessly to restore LAW AND ORDER. It’s going to be up to Patriots like YOU to save our Nation from that dark fate.”

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Pres. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are seeking a second four year term.

Tuberville is a former Auburn University head football coach. He is running against incumbent U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) in the November 3 general election.

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Edmund Pettus descendant calls for bridge to be renamed

Micah Danney

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The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. (via Wikimedia Commons)

A California man who bears the surname at the center of a debate about how history is remembered has come out in support of renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“I share that name of Pettus with secessionists, slave owners, and traitors to the United States,” David Pettus, 72, wrote in a statement he sent to several news outlets. “During the Civil War, they may have fought for (and several died for) what they believed, but what they fought and died for was wrong. It was not honorable. It was wicked. And they lost their fortunes as well as their lives in that wicked cause.”

Pettus tuned in to a virtual town hall event on Aug. 7 that was held to give Selma residents, some of whom marched across the bridge in 1965, a platform to discuss renaming the bridge. Local activists have criticized initiatives to change the name that have originated outside of Selma, proposed by people who have no connection to the community.

Pettus said he is sensitive to that and thinks that the town’s residents “need to have loud voices in any decision.” He said he was inspired by their comments.

“Therefore, as nothing more than a concerned citizen of this country – though as one who bears some relation to that disgraced name, I humbly make the following suggestions:

1) That the name of Edmund Pettus be removed from the bridge in Selma, to show that we can learn from our mistakes and be a better people than we have been in the past, and;

2) That the bridge henceforth be known as ‘Bloody Sunday Bridge’ to honor the historic events that occurred there in 1965; events led by John Lewis and others, and which raised all of us up to be better than we had been before.”

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Pettus said he generally does not like the idea of things being named after people because people are fallible. He supports renaming the bridge after the event for which it is known because it would be attention-grabbing. He also said he supports the community’s goals of using the site to better educate people about what happened there.

Pettus retired from the real estate business and now writes full-time in California’s Bay Area, where he has spent his life. He was a student at the University of California, Berkeley in 1965, when the Bloody Sunday march etched his family name into civil rights history.

He wasn’t aware of the bridge’s name at the time and had no idea he was related to the former Confederate general and grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan until two years later, when he began researching his family’s Deep South roots. He wasn’t able to pinpoint his exact relation, he said, but believes Edmund Pettus was his great-great-great-uncle.

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There was a generational split in his family between older relatives who had remained in the south and were “unreconstructed,” he said. A great-aunt he used to visit called the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression.

“My dad who had come west during World War II did not have any of those inclinations, I’m pleased to say, and raised us not to have them,” Pettus said. 

He has been in touch with another descendant of Edmund Pettus who has called for the bridge to be renamed. A great-great-granddaughter, Caroline Randall Williams, penned a New York Times op-ed in June about the debate over Confederate monuments.

She issued a statement last month supporting the latest push to rename the bridge for the late Rep. John Lewis: “We need to rename the bridge because we need to honor an American hero, a man who made that bridge a place worth remembering. John Lewis secured that bridge’s place on the right side of history. We are not a people that were made to cling to relics of the past at the cost of our hope for the future. Renaming the bridge in John Lewis’s honor would be a testament to the capacity for progress, the right-mindedness and striving toward freedom that are at the heart of what’s best about the American spirit.”

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Someone should be fired for Decatur’s racist housing practices

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Did you know that all Black people hate living in high-rise towers? Or that all Black people like to sit on their porches, and come and go easily? 

I was unaware of these common traits shared by all Black people until this morning, when I read a news story in the Decatur Daily and then read a lengthy report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that detailed the insanely racist practices of the Decatur Housing Authority. 

Now, before we go much further here, I should warn some of you that this is going to shatter your beliefs that racism is mostly dead and that widespread, government-sponsored racism doesn’t exist, or is over-hyped by media attempting to shame all white people. Those views were ignorant, offensive and easily disproved anyway, but this story is going to cause you some sleepless nights. 

Here are the basic details: In Decatur, there are three options for low-income, elderly housing. There are two high-rise apartment buildings that sit beside the Tennessee River and offer tenants various activities and beautiful views of the river. There is also another group of garden-style apartments several miles away, located in a less desirable and impoverished area of Decatur, where crime rates are high and property values low, and there are no activities and no gorgeous views. 

In the beautiful high-rise buildings, the tenants are 94 percent white. 

In the very-much-not-beautiful apartments, the tenants are 100 percent Black. 

If you think this to be a mere accident, it was not. Decatur Housing Authority employees admitted to the segregation practices, in which they routinely bypassed Black applicants on the waiting lists at the high-rise buildings and placed white tenants in the rooms instead. 

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The HUD review noted numerous instances of this occurring during the compliance review period. In other words, the people at the Decatur Housing Authority continued this racist nonsense even when they knew HUD was watching. 

And it’s actually worse than that. Because DHA was warned back in 2017 that its segregation practices were illegal, and that serious changes and improvements needed to be made to its housing and placement practices. 

DHA did nothing. 

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HUD officials found that one Black applicant remained on the waiting list for a room at the high-rise buildings for nearly 2,000 days. 

That’s more than five years.

And when the HUD investigators asked about these practices and about the obviously segregated housing situation, DHA employees told them: “Black elderly tenants do not like to live in high-rise buildings. They prefer to live in garden-style units so they can sit on their porch and come and go as they please.” 

All Black tenants … Lordy. 

The HUD report sums this up nicely: “It is unclear how the (DHA) staff reached this conclusion.”

If you’re wondering, absolutely no one in Decatur has taken responsibility for this monumental embarrassment. And as of late Tuesday evening, no one has been held accountable. 

Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling ducked questions about the issue, despite the fact he is responsible for appointing some members of the DHA board. 

One of those board members, chairman James Ridgeway, ran from the problem too, telling the Daily that he “doesn’t oversee the thing,” meaning DHA, and that he’s just a board member. 

Ridgeway went on to say that even though the board does have authority to hire and fire the people in charge of DHA — executive director Andy Holloway and housing director Jeff Snead — there are no plans to do so. 

“We don’t have nothing against them. They’ve done a good job,” Ridgeway said. 

They actually didn’t. According to a spokesperson for HUD, the Decatur Housing Authority operated the absolute worst, most racist housing agency in the entire country. 

To rectify the situation, Decatur will pay out $200,000 in fines and will be forced to make improvements to bring the apartments up to decent standards and provide the additional services that are available in the highrises. 

All told, it will cost the city, and its taxpayers, millions of dollars. And it will have left hundreds of Black residents living in substandard housing, and suffering the indignity of being shuffled off to less desirable homes because of the color of their skin. 

Someone should answer for that.

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