Yesterday, I mentioned the horrific case of Jesse Lee Williams, Jr., who was beaten to death while in police custody in Harrison County, Mississippi. I noted that six months after Harrison’s death, there had yet to be any movement toward justice for the police deputies who beat him.
As it turns out, there was some movement yesterday. According to the Biloxi Sun Herald, one of the deputies who participated in the beating has confessed to federal prosecutors, and as part of a plea, has conceded a long history of abuse at the county jail. An arrest of Deputy Ryan Teel, who is thought to have inflicted the brunt of the beating, should soon follow.
This is certainly a positive development, and it will be interesting to see how Teel is ultimately charged.
But as noted, there is a long record of reported abuse at the Harrison County jail house. Reports of inmate beatings have circulated for months, not just from inmates themselves, but from other officers from other departments, and from other witnesses. Nothing was done. Encouraging as yesterday’s news was, it doesn’t undermine the criticism that earlier beatings went unaddressed, that it took a homicide to rally any real accountability, and that even then, the first signs of justice have appeared only after six months, and only after involvement from federal investigators.
As the Sun Herald noted in an editorial on the case last month, violent crimes not perpetrated by police officers seem to move through the criminal justice system quite a bit more swiftly.