Fallout from death of jail inmate

July 11, 2008 4:08:31 PM PDT
Allegations of civil rights violations, protests by community activists and now a Harris County jailer and his supervisor are out of a job, accused of lying during an investigation into the death of an inmate. Hours before we aired the latest 'In Focus' report on that inmate's death, the sheriff's department fired the jailer and his supervisor.

Clarence Freeman died January 10. We've been following this case since before he died, asking the sheriff's office when it was going to decide if a choke hold applied by a detention officer was excessive force. They still haven't decided, but have fired Nathan Hartfield.

The sheriff's office told us Friday they caught Hartfield and supervisor Joyce Harris lying about where she was during the altercation. They said she was supervising the floor. But she was outside on the phone while Freeman was in a choke hold.

The sheriff's office couldn't be clearer that choke holds are against the rules.

"They're all trained that choke holds are not an acceptable way of subduing inmates," said Major Don McWilliams with the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

But Hartfield admitted he used one. Hartfield kept his job until Thursay.

"We terminated detention officer Nathan Hartfield," reported McWilliams.

But not for using a choke hold. They fired him for lying about the altercation. The choke hold is still under investigation and even though deputies aren't trained in the use of choke holds, in a fight, they say, rules sometimes get broken.

"If an employee, for example, is being physically injured, if they're fighting for their life, there's a lot more leeway in terms of what you can do," said McWilliams,

Freeman's widow heard the news Friday morning and was relieved.

"I was overwhelmed, but I wasn't surprised to get the ruling that they were fired because knowing Clarence is a Godly person, things that I actually experienced in the report weren't true and I knew that in my heart," said Cherry Bradley.

The firings come as the Justice Department continues examining the Harris County Jail for any evidence of civil rights violations. Inspectors with the Justice Department have been touring the jails since Tuesday. The group Ministers against Crime, along with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, called for the investigation after numerous complaints and concerns over deaths in jail. Saturday will be the final day of the inspection.

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