The NAACP has made a formal request to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate a series of deaths that have occurred in the jail system of Broward County, Florida.
Twenty-one people, primarily people of color, have died in Broward County jails since 2019. In a letter sent directly to Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the DOJ, the NAACP states that an investigation is needed “into the Broward County Jails’ conditions and management, especially its psychiatric treatment practices.”
“The county is responsible for intentionally neglecting and depriving people in its custody of necessary medical treatment,” the NAACP said in its letter.
The letter was sent about six weeks after 29-year-old Janard Geffrard was choked and beaten to death by his cellmate at a jail in Broward County. The NAACP and Geffard’s family members say the violence could have been stopped in time to save his life.
Geffrard, who was gay and mentally ill, shared a cell with another person with mental illness, who later told detectives he was “bothered” by Geffrard’s sexuality.
“This is a very troubling story…Basically, one mentally ill person is accused of choking another one and then ten minutes later kicking him on the ground before anyone discovered what was happening,” defense attorney and courthouse blogger Bill Gellin told a CBS News affiliate in Florida.
“I want to know what happened to my son. I’m hurt. I love my son. I miss my son,” said Jeff Geffrard, Janard’s father.
Some of the other incidents the NAACP cited in Broward County jails include guards killing incarcerated people — including 43-year-old Kevin Desir, who died from strangulation after a struggle with guards in 2021, an independent autopsy report found.
The NAACP’s list of deaths also includes suicides, drug overdoses and at least one case of medical neglect after a woman gave birth in her cell.
Advocates say the Broward County Sheriff’s office, which oversees the jail, cannot be trusted to investigate the deaths. Proper medical treatment for incarcerated people doesn’t appear to be a priority of the department, as evidenced by the fact that the department was sued during the COVID-19 pandemic by the American Civil Liberties Union over poor conditions that unnecessarily exposed incarcerated people to the virus.
“We don’t want to hear, ‘we’ve investigated ourselves and found that we’ve done no wrong.’ We want to find out what’s really happening,” said Marsha Ellison, NAACP Broward County President, during a press conference announcing the request to the DOJ. “I don’t honestly believe and don’t trust the process of the internal (sheriff’s office) to investigate themselves.”
“Folks are dying when they are supposed to be protected (and) cared for,” said public defender Gordon Weekes. “We have to look at how we can do better as a community and as a society and that starts with us having some transparency.”
“When we have folks introduced into the system and the system then causes them additional trauma, where folks are dying when they’re supposed to be protected, cared for, and placed in a level of security, this system is failing,” Weekes went on.
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