Carlos Moore, an attorney with The Cochran Firm, speaks about the murder of Clay County Jail inmate Dale O'Neal in front of Clay County Courthouse Thursday afternoon. O'Neal was murdered by another inmate, and his family hired Moore to investigate the death. Moore said he has filed a public records request with Clay County asking for records pertaining to O'Neal's death and the jail's policies and procedures. Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
Members of Dale O'Neal's family, including his mother Ollie Blair, right, sit outside Clay County Courthouse during a press conference Thursday afternoon. O'Neal was killed by another inmate while being held at the Clay County Jail on misdemeanor charges, and the family has hired an attorney to investigate the circumstances around O'Neal's death.
Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
March 22, 2019 10:13:45 AM
The family of an inmate at the Clay County Jail who was murdered by his cellmate has filed public records requests for documents related to their loved one's death.
Dale O'Neal, 54, was found dead in his cell the morning of March 15. The only other person in the cell with O'Neal was Cameron Henderson, 20, who was arrested Monday after preliminary autopsy reports ruled O'Neal had been strangled to death.
O'Neal's family hired Carlos Moore, of The Cochran Firm, to investigate O'Neal's death. Moore held a press conference outside the Clay County Courthouse Thursday where he announced he had requested records pertaining to the murder.
"There is something that stinks and it stinks to high heaven in Clay County," Moore said. "We're about to find out what's rotten."
Moore said the records requested included video footage, access to incident reports, the names of officers on duty during the time of the murder, recordings of calls made to 911, the names of inmates at the jail and the jail's booking procedures.
He added if the records were not released, the family plans to sue the county for O'Neal's death.
"If you have nothing to hide, give it to us," Moore said. "Let us see that you did everything properly. If you keep hiding the ball, rest assured, within 90 to 120 days a federal lawsuit will be filed against Clay County."
Sheriff Eddie Scott said the records would not be released if they pertained to the criminal investigation into Henderson. Those records instead would all be turned over to Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the murder.
"We don't release anything in a criminal investigation and (Moore) knows that," Scott told The Dispatch after the press conference.
He added the evidence would be turned over to the District Attorney's Office following MBI's investigation, and it would be up to District Attorney Scott Colom to release it.
When reached by The Dispatch, Colom said he didn't know what was in the public records request to Clay County, but agreed with the sheriff in that information pertaining to ongoing investigations is one of the exceptions to open records laws.
Colom added his office doesn't typically release information pertaining to investigations before they've gone to trial because of rules prohibiting prosecutors to do so and because releasing certain information could hurt the chances for having a fair trial.
Circumstances around death
O'Neal had been booked in the Clay County Jail earlier this month on a trespassing charge and a bench warrant arrest. Henderson was arrested for shoplifting less than $500.
Both trespassing and shoplifting are misdemeanors, which Scott said earned the two men a shared jail cell away from suspects accused of violent felonies.
However, during the press conference, Moore questioned why the two were held in the same cell and why, if O'Neal was strangled, none of the guards on duty heard the sounds of a struggle and intervened.
Moore suggested Henderson is mentally ill, a drug addict and a racist, which he said he learned by looking at Henderson's Facebook page, which includes a slang word for African Americans in his profile picture.
Henderson is white.
"Why would you put a racist in a cell with a black man, in Mississippi no less?" Moore said.
Moore said "common sense" says there should have been periodic checks on the inmates in the misdemeanor cell.
"If someone's trying to kill you, there's going to be a violent struggle," Moore said. "There would have been noise. ... Why didn't the jailers get there in time to rescue the man? That's the million dollar question."
Henderson has been transferred to another detention facility for his own safety, Scott previously told The Dispatch.
O'Neal's mother, Ollie Blair, also spoke at the press conference, and O'Neal's daughter, Yashia Culberson, spoke to The Dispatch after the conference.
"(I'm) taking it hard, but I'm trying to be strong," Culberson said through tears. "If it was a natural cause, I wouldn't take it so bad, but somebody killed him, so that's a different grief. When I lost my mama in 2010, hers was a natural cause but now my mama and daddy (are) dead. My dad got killed, my mom did not."
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