2nd inmate death lawsuit filed against Shelby Co. sheriff

Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:29 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:31 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Another wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against the Shelby County Government, Sheriff Floyd Bonner, and a list of his employees, with the backing of national civil rights attorney Ben Crump concerning an inmate death at 201 Poplar.

The family of 38-year-old Marcus Donald filed the suit on the one-year anniversary of his in-custody strangulation that led to his death.

According to court records, Donald pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge on November 17, 2022. The same night after entering that plea, he was strangled to death in a cell by another inmate.

A similar suit was filed in April by the widow of Gershun Freeman, who was fatally beaten by deputy jailers on October 5, 2022. His manner of death has been classified as a homicide.

According to court documents, 44 inmates have died in SCSO custody while under Bonner’s leadership, more than three times the national average for jail-inmate mortality.

Donald’s death was the 35th fatality.

Court records allege Donald was release-eligible on the day of his death, but guards locked him in another cell to spend another night. Donald’s new cellmate, accused murderer Stephen Robinson, reportedly disliked Donald and told guards he would kill him if they put him in his cell.

After guards did exactly that, Robinson allegedly shouted to guards and other inmates passing by that he would kill Donald unless he was removed from his cell. The suit alleges Donald and fellow inmates genuinely believed Robinson’s threats and called for help.

One deputy jailer allegedly responded to Donald’s plea to be released from Robinson’s cell by saying, “That ain’t got s*** to do with me. I ain’t coming to work tomorrow no way,” before leaving. Some time afterward, another deputy jailer allegedly peeked inside the pod, and despite inmates calling to her for help, she reportedly stepped out without so much as a word in response.

When SCSO jailers did re-enter the pod just after midnight, they reportedly found Donald unconscious and not breathing at Robinson’s feet as the result of being strangled. The suit also alleges deputy jailers delayed CPR when they found him.

He was later taken to the hospital and placed on life support, but never regained consciousness. He was pronounced brain dead on November 23, 2022.

Donald’s family seeks $75 million in damages from Sheriff Bonner, Chief Jailer Kirk Fields, and other deputy jailers alleging Donald’s death was the result of gross negligence by the ones who were sworn to protect him.

The lawsuit can be read in full below:

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