Year later, no answers in prisoner’s death 6/16/05

Year later, no answers in prisoner’s death 6/16/05

June 16, 2005 Year later, no answers in prisoner’s death

CHRISTIAN BOTTORFF, STAFF Mother of woman who died of blow to head says justice is ‘taking too long’

Nearly a year after 34-year-old Estelle Richardson was killed at the South Nashville Metro Detention Facility, no one has been charged, leaving her loved ones to wonder whether justice will ever be served. Four guards of the jail, which is privately operated by Corrections Corporation of America, have been on paid leave since shortly after Richardson was found beaten and unresponsive in her single-person cell. She was pronounced dead July 5. One guard has publicly proclaimed his innocence. A lawyer for another disputes the medical examiner’s finding that the inmate’s death was a homicide. Metro police, the Metro district attorney general’s office and the U.S. attorney’s office have been investigating the case, but as of yet, Richardson’s killing remains unsolved. “When somebody gets killed, they all should be locked up,” her mother, Estella Buie, said in a recent interview. Buie, 75, adopted Richardson, her granddaughter, when she was a 2-week-old baby. “It’s taking too long,” she said. “It’s going to be a year, and (authorities) haven’t done nothing. I haven’t heard anything about it. The way it looks right now — it looks like they will do nothing.” Richardson’s death was initially investigated by Metro homicide detectives, then sent to the Davidson County district attorney general. A couple of months later, the U.S. Department of Justice civil rights division launched its own probe. Local and federal officials have declined to comment on the progress of their investigations. CCA and the four guards are named as defendants in a $60 million federal civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Richardson’s two minor children, accusing the guards of beating the inmate to death. The circumstances surrounding Richardson’s death remain mostly shrouded in secrecy. She had been serving a six-year sentence for violating probation by trying to illegally obtain prescription painkillers with her two children present. Richardson grew up in Lansing, Mich., and lived at home with Buie and her children in a house about a mile and a half from her telemarketing job near the Lansing airport. She moved to Nashville in 1999 hoping to find a job and take classes to become a surgical assistant. Once in Tennessee, she fell in with a bad crowd, her friends and relatives said, obtaining prescription drugs, which her acquaintances would then sell for profit. At some point, she began taking the drugs herself. Buie remembers the last time she talked to her daughter during a telephone conversation while Richardson was in jail. The call took place only a few days before Richardson’s death. Richardson sounded upbeat and talked of her future. She spoke of plans to return to Michigan to get her children and marry her boyfriend, a Lansing-area auto factory worker. “She said she would be coming home real soon,” Buie said. In the days before her death, CCA records show, she was the only prisoner in the cell. Police have said that she was involved in a fight with the four guards on the day before she was found unresponsive. Nashville Medical Examiner Bruce Levy ruled that Richardson’s death was caused by a blunt-force injury to her head. Her skull was cracked, four ribs were broken and her liver damaged, the autopsy shows. The injuries indicate that Richardson’s head probably was slammed into a hard surface, such as a wall, Levy said in an interview with The Tennessean last year. Levy said that it wasn’t possible that the inmate had killed herself or died by accident. None of the guards has been charged with a crime. One of the guards, William Wood, told The Tennessean in an interview last year that the allegations against him and the others are false. Wood said that no excessive force was used to subdue Richardson on July 4 when she refused to clean her cell. The guards did use Mace, but Richardson appeared fine after the incident, Wood said. John Wagster, the Nashville attorney for another guard, Jeremy Neese, said he plans to challenge the official autopsy. “We will refute the long jump made by Dr. Levy to say homicide just because there is a death,” Wagster said. He said Neese remains on the CCA payroll and received the same annual raise as other guards. Richardson’s longtime friend, Dee McClain of Antioch, said she fears that the lack of information about the investigations means no one will ultimately be held responsible. “For (the guards) to not be on trial like the rest of the world would be, that’s what I’m (upset) about,” McClain said. “So far, they’ve done nothing to them.”

o Joshua D. Schockman, 23. A CCA guard since May 2003. Studied various martial arts. Previously held jobs in computer repair and as a club bouncer and a shipping auditor. Has been a boxing instructor. Was disciplined once for reading an inmate’s mail, which was a copy of the National Enquirer. A graduate of William Henry Harrison High School in Evansville, Ind. o Keith Andre Hendricks, 35. Has been a CCA guard since October 2000 and is ranked as a senior correction officer. Worked with a team of guards who conduct contraband searches in CCA prisons. o Jeremy Neese, 24. Joined CCA as a guard in February 2004. Before that, worked in Nashville at Securitas Security Services USA Inc. Graduated a year before Schockman from William Henry Harrison High School in Evansville, Ind. Neese and Schockman shared an address in Nashville, CCA records showed. o William Wood, 26. Before working at CCA, worked as a security officer and a frame carpenter. He also served in the Marines.

Christian Bottorff can be reached at 726-8904 or cbottorff@tennessean.com.

Copyright (c) The Tennessean. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.

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