Judge delays Harrison Co. jail-beating lawsuit

Published 6:02 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A federal judge has delayed the trial for more than a dozen defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of an inmate who died in the Harrison County jail.

U.S. Magistrate Robert H. Walker cited an ongoing criminal investigation into the death of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. as the reason for the delay.

The order, issued Monday, means the defendants don’t have to answer yet to complaints involving Williams’ beating at the jail on Feb. 4.

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Walker will reconsider his order in 60 days.

The lawsuit alleges Williams, 40, was beaten and tortured while restrained in violation of his civil rights by jailers acting under color of law. The beating has not resulted in arrests.

U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton and District Attorney Cono Caranna have maintained that the investigation continues.

Williams was jailed on misdemeanor charges, including public drunkenness, when the jailhouse beating occurred. His death two days later was ruled a homicide.

Walker’s order states the civil case should be delayed “in the interest of protecting the rights of all parties and seeing that complete justice is done in both the civil and criminal arenas.”

His ruling was on motions filed on behalf of Sheriff George H. Payne Jr. and former jailer Regina Rhodes. Rhodes has been fired. The lawsuit claims that Rhodes assisted another jailer, Ryan Teel, in administering most of the blows. Teel has resigned.

Michael W. Crosby, lead attorney for Williams’ estate, expressed disappointment with the judge’s decision.

“We would ordinarily be able to investigate the death ourselves by compelling the witnesses to speak and by being allowed to view the videos,” said Crosby.