Family sues city for jail death


Garthia Elena Burnett



It''s been more than three years since the death of 52-year-old Roosevelt Pernell Jr.


Today, his family has more questions than they did Feb. 22, 2007, when Pernell was found dead in a Lowndes County jail cell.


And answers aren''t all the family is looking for. They want restitution.



Deborah Pernell Simmons of Michigan, Pernell''s sister, filed a civil suit against the city of Columbus and the Columbus Police Department -- specifically officers Rick Jones and Heath Beard -- in U.S. District Court. The case will be heard by a jury June 28. The city denies officers had any involvement in the death.


"The information I got from the police, it doesn''t add up," Simmons said Tuesday. She has launched her own investigation, running ads soliciting information on the case.


"I did get a few calls on that where they told me the incident did stem from him getting into an altercation with a young lady at the Chanteclair apartments and she hit him with a bottle," she said.


In her suit, Simmons claims Pernell was "in good physical condition" when he was arrested by CPD officers but had bruises, swelling and lacerations when he entered the Lowndes County jail. She accuses Jones and Beard of physically assaulting her brother and making no attempt to provide him with medical attention. The officers'' negligence, the complaint says, caused Pernell''s death.


Pernell was arrested Feb. 21, 2007 for public drunkenness. A woman had called 911 to report a man beating on her door at the Chanteclair apartment complex near the intersection of Seventh Street North and Park Circle. Police officers found Pernell outside the apartments and took him to the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center.


The next morning, when jailers went to wake him, Pernell was unresponsive. He was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle for treatment and later was pronounced dead. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.


At the time, then-Interim Police Chief Joe Johnson reported Pernell had no obvious injuries when officers apprehended him; he was conscious, on his feet and cooperated with the arrest. A witness reported she had seen Pernell being beaten in the vicinity of the apartment complex.


In response to the complaint, the city of Columbus denies all allegations, saying Pernell''s injuries were not caused by "policy or custom" of the city. And the officers named, the complaint reads, are entitled to immunity.


Since the early stages of the case, there have been no new leads, CPD Investigator Gary Moore said, Thursday. Officers arrested a suspect on Feb. 22, 2007, but later found he was not involved in the incident.


Simmons is seeking a judgment for "lost compensation, death, pain and suffering, burial and funeral expenses, lost income and any and all damages allowed under the law." She also seeks punitive damages for "gross, wanton and reckless disregard" for her brother''s rights in an amount to be determined by a jury.


At the time of Pernell''s death, Simmons was trying to help him get information about his own son''s killing.


Last year, after more than five years, the Clay County Sheriff''s Department made in arrest in the shooting death of Pernell''s son, Roosevelt "Squirt" Pernell III.


Robert Rupert, 39, has been charged with capital murder in the murder-for-hire hit. Pernell III, a police informant, was killed with a sniper rifle on Dec. 4, 2003. Rupert is scheduled to face trial in the July session of Clay County Circuit Court.


Roosevelt Pernell Jr.''s case could become a mission of a regional cold case unit, now in the works. The Clay County Cold Case Unit, which solved Roosevelt Pernell III''s murder case, is taking the lead on applying for a grant to fund a regional cold case and crime scene investigation unit.


Anyone with information on the Roosevelt Pernell Jr. case is asked to contact the Columbus Police Department at 662-244-3552 or Golden Triangle Crime Stoppers at 800-530-7151.





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