Thursday, October 6, 2005

Officials examine woman’s death

Staff Writer

The Mississippi Highway Patrol is investigating the death of Mary Jeffries, 51, of 1358 Yarbrough Road, following her arrest Saturday night by Holly Springs police.

Marshall County Coroner John Garrison said Jeffries was transported via ambulance from the jail to Alliance HealthCare System at 9:31 p.m. Time of death was listed by Alliance as 9:51 p.m. Saturday, October 1, he said. Garrison was called to the hospital at 10:35 p.m. that evening.

He said Jeffries had “a couple of little scrapes on each knee but no obvious injuries that would cause death.”

Jeffries’ body was transported to Jackson for autopsy by state medical examiner Steven Hayne. The autopsy was performed Monday night, according to Garrison. It will be three to six months before a full autopsy report is available, he said.

Autopsies are ordered automatically by state law anytime anyone dies while in police custody, he said.

Haynes reported some preliminary autopsy results Tuesday but has not ruled the cause of death, pending toxicology results, Garrison said.

“He did find severe hypertensive heart disease, mild cerebral edema, and coronary artery disease,” Garrison said.

“Toxicology results could be ready in five or six days,” Marshall County Sheriff Kenny Dickerson said. “Once he (Hayne) gets that he will probably release his complete preliminary findings. I expect it will be soon.”

Holly Springs Police Chief Patricia Selman said police attempted to arrest Jeffries between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, after a patrolling officer on Memphis Street noticed her walking and turning around in the middle of Memphis Street near Falconer and the Holly Market.

The officer first called for backup because Jeffries was naked. He was joined by a second officer in a short foot pursuit. They left their patrol cars on Memphis Street and pursued Jeffries into the alley. A third officer came to the area to assist, Selman said.

Jeffries kicked and fought with police officers while they attempted to handcuff her and get her into a patrol car, Selman said.

They took Jeffries to Marshall County Jail, Selman said.

At the jail, Jeffries refused to get out of the patrol car. Police officers asked the jailer to bring out a restraint chair after they had trouble getting Jeffries out of the police car, Selman said.

Jeffries was tasered by a jailer, placed in restraint and carried into the jail, she said. While officers were booking Jeffries they noticed she was not doing well and asked for rescue, Selman said. Rescue responded and transported Jeffries was to Alliance.

Selman said the three arresting officers were put on administrative leave Monday as a matter of procedure pending the completion of an investigation by the Mississippi Highway Patrol. The three officers were interviewed early Sunday morning by investigators, she said.

Selman said she fully supports the three officers.

“I go on line saying this: we treat everybody with dignity; we treat people fairly because this is our line of work,” Selman said. “We work for the public. I stand firmly that the officers only did their job and used only the force necessary to get her under control. The officers knew she needed help because she had no clothes on.”

Selman said she counseled the three officers before they were placed on leave because they have families.

“These officers are a part of this community, too. They have a family. They have wives and they have feelings, too,” Selman said.

Sheriff Dickerson confirmed that the Highway Patrol is conducting an investigation. An officer with the Mississippi Highway Patrol officer who does not work in this area is interviewing officers and any known witnesses, he said.

Chief Selman said police officers called her after they requested a rescue team come to the jail. Selman went to the jail and Jeffries had already been taken to Alliance, she said. She went to Alliance to await a report on Jeffries condition. Selman said she waited until morning to call the mayor.

In a press release Monday, Mayor Andre’ DeBerry said Chief Selman informed him on Sunday of the incident - that Jeffries “began to need medical attention and received medical attention from paramedics” after she was transferred to the Marshall County Jail.

“I asked for and received an incident report from all officers involved Sunday morning after talking with Chief Selman,” he said. “I offer my deepest condolences and sympathy to the Jeffries family at this tragic time.”

DeBerry said he called for an investigation of the incident by the Investigation Division of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Meanwhile, the Marshall County NAACP Branch is investigating the incident, also.

State Rep. Kelvin Buck said he was asked to head an investigation into the incident by the Marshall County NAACP Branch Monday.

“We are pleased that the Mayor has called for an outside investigation but we are also going to approach the Mississippi Attorney General to ensure a thorough investigation,” Buck said. “There are a couple of other things we want done. We want all officers involved on administrative leave until the investigation is complete. We do know that there was more than one officer (making the arrest) and that they were all male officers.”

Buck said the NAACP is concerned about allegations that Holly Springs Police Officers may have used excessive force.

“We want the investigation to either confirm or exclude that possibility,” he said. “The state NAACP has been contacted and we have attorneys on standby.”

“The NAACP is collecting a list of witnesses whose names will be turned over to the proper authorities,” he said.

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