Vigil to remember those who died in police custody

died-in-police-custody

On Native Americans’ Day, this Friday, September 25, 2015, a vigil will be held in front of the Neshoba County Courthouse in Philadelphia, Mississippi beginning at 6:30 p.m. to honor Choctaw Tribal member, Rexdale Henry and all others who have been killed under suspicious circumstances in the Neshoba County Jail or by any law enforcement personnel. The families of Rexdale Henry will be joined by the families of Michael McDougle and Jonathan Sanders, as well as community members from various local tribes and concerned residents of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and neighboring states.

Deputy sheriffs reported that Rexdale Henry was found dead in his jail cell on July 14 one half hour after being observed in good condition. He was arrested on July 9 for a minor traffic violation and failure to pay old fines. The State medical examiner has yet to release even preliminary findings from his autopsy which was conducted immediately after his death. A second autopsy was obtained by the family with the assistance of the Syracuse University College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative and the Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Committee. Sixteen days after his death the Neshoba County representatives announced that a charge of murder would be brought against Michael Schlegel, a White inmate who was purportedly sharing the cell with Rexdale Henry. No other details have been released to explain how this could have happened or why it took so long to release the details of the suspected involvement of Michael Schlagel. The family of Rexdale Henry is demanding more information and answers to numerous questions about the circumstances of his death.

Neshoba County was the location of the disappearance and subsequent 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, during Freedom Summer. They were involved in efforts by local civil rights activists and college students to participate in voter registration and to oppose segregation and extreme violence in Mississippi at that time. The Sheriff arrested the three young workers as they were inspecting a recently burned Black church in the area; he held them in the same Neshoba County jail system until late at night when he released them on the outskirts of town into the hands of a waiting Klan mob. Their bodies were not found until later that summer.

Michael McDougle, a 29 year old African American male, was found dead on November2, 2014 in his cell in the same Neshoba jail as Rexdale Henry. Witnesses reported that he had been beaten and taseredwhile handcuffed. The state has failed to release the formal results of the autopsy in that case and the family has sued for wrongful death.
Jonathan Sanders, the 39 year old African American father of two children, died on July 8, 2015, after Clark County Mississippi police officer Kevin Harrington pulled him off his horse in an altercation. Relatives who witnessed the incident reported that the officer pressed a flashlight against Sanders’ neck and he died of asphyxiation. The FBI is currently investigating the death but no charges have been brought against the officer.

Rexdale Henry’s death occurred right after Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell in July 13, 2015 in Waller County, Texas. Ms. Bland was arrested for a lane change signal traffic offense. Her death has received national attention. She was on her way to a new job but the detention facility claimed that she committed suicide by hanging herself with an available garbage bag.

Native Americans’ Day is celebrated locally in certain tribal communities in addition to the traditional ceremonies conducted on October 12, 2015.

For Further Information: Please contact:
John Steele,
Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Committee
(662) 773-2655

or

Janis McDonald, Co-Director, Cold Case Justice Initiative
Syracuse University College of Law
315 935-5529