Video Shows Moments Before William Jennette's Death in Jail
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Video Shows Multiple Officers Restraining Man at Jail Before He Died. One Said ‘You Shouldn’t Be Able to Breathe, You Stupid Bastard.’

Warning: this video footage may be disturbing to some.

Newly released surveillance camera footage shows several police officers called to a Tennessee jail kneeling on the back of a 48-year-old father of five who repeatedly pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. One of the officers even said that he “shouldn’t be able to breathe” in the moments before the man died.

The video, obtained through a public records request from Nashville CBS affiliate WTVF-TV, shows what happened after officers were called to back up deputies at the Marshall County Jail in Lewisburg in May 2020. Inmate William Jennette was refusing to get into a restraint chair. Jennette, a cement truck driver who had been arrested two days prior for resisting arrest, public intoxication, and indecent exposure, was in the midst of detoxing and suffered from hallucinations, according to jail logs obtained by the TV station. He had been placed in the restraint chair the previous day because he was repeatedly hitting his head against the wall of his cell.

The five-minute video begins with a deputy who appeared much larger than Jennette grabbing the front of the inmate’s uniform with both hands. The deputy then pushes the inmate approximately 10 yards before the inmate slams his back into a wall.

When Lewisburg Police Officers arrive on the scene, Jennette is shown screaming that the jail deputies were trying to kill him as all of the law enforcement officers tackle him to the floor.

The video then shows a handcuffed Jennette sprawled facedown on the floor with several officers on site grabbing his arms and legs and kneeling on his back, using their body weight to keep him down.

“Stay down, you stupid son of a bitch,” one officer identified in a lawsuit as Christopher Stallings says.

As an officer orders someone to get “leg restraints,” Jennette can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” letting out a long cry for help.

“You shouldn’t be able to breathe, you stupid bastard,” a female officer identified in a lawsuit as Kendra Burton responds. Video shows and the lawsuit alleges that the officer also called Jennette a “little stupid bastard.” See around the 2:30-mark in the video below:

After the Jennette’s arms and legs are bent in towards his back, one of the officers appeared to recognize the danger of kneeling on Jennette — who can be heard gurgling throughout the ordeal — for several minutes and says, “Easy, easy, remember asphyxiation, guys.”

“That’s why I’m not on his lungs,” Stallings allegedly said.

In his final words, Jennette made one more attempt to get the officers to back off, saying, “I’m good.”

But the officers wouldn’t listen, with Stallings allegedly snapping back, “No, you ain’t good, you’re going to lay right there for a fucking minute.”

Law professor and former police officer Seth Stoughton told WTVF that the conduct of the officers was “the exact opposite of what generally accepted training has taught officers for the last 25 years.”

“There’s approximately a three-minute, 43-second period after officers have applied handcuffs where they keep the individual in the prone position, and that’s not acceptable,” Stoughton said.

A county medical examiner report concluded that Jennette’s death was a homicide, finding that the cause of death was “acute combined drug intoxication” with “asphyxia” also listed as a “contributory cause of death.”

A grand jury decided that criminal charges were not appropriate for any of the officers involved, the TV station reported.

Jennette’s daughter, Dominique Jennette, has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against several of the officers, the county, and the city.

In a response to Dominique Jennette’s amended complaint, the county defendants disputed Jennette’s version of what is on the video.

“County Defendants deny they violated Mr. Jennette’s constitutional rights or other rights set out in the Complaint,” the response reads.

Several of the officers involved raised qualified immunity as a defense.

“Miller, Burton, Summers, and Owens did not use any force on Mr. Jennette other than was necessary to gain control as he fought, bit, kicked and struggled against being detained,” the response documents continue. “Further, Miller, Burton, Summers, and Owens did not fail to intervene in any alleged excessive use of force. First, they deny that excessive force was used. Second, as can be heard in the body camera video, the officers were aware of the dangers of positional asphyxia and were making sure that they were not putting pressure on Mr. Jennette’s lungs as they wrestled to gain control of Mr. Jennette who continued to present a danger to the officers’ safety. Third, Miller, Burton, Summers, and Owens observed Mr. Jennette breathing and observed Stallings’ efforts to monitor Mr. Jennette’s health and breathing.”

Read the plaintiff’s complaint and several of the response documents from the various defendants below:

[image via WTVF-TV screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.