The case of Justin Thompson, who died following his assault by guards at the Washoe County Jail in Reno, is only the latest episode of scandalous brutality coming out of America’s jails/prisons. Thompson, a 35-year-old who suffered from mental illness, tried in vain to draw his last breath after being crushed, beaten, and taunted by guards. The Reno Gazette-Journal reports:
Videos released by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office show in gut-wrenching detail the final hours of a Reno man with a mental illness who died after struggling against deputies who kept him pinned to the floor — his face covered with a spit hood — for more than 30 minutes.
Justin Thompson, 35, was booked into the Washoe County Jail on Aug. 3 and spent 24 hours pacing an empty holding cell in growing distress, curling in the fetal position while clutching his head, stuffing toilet paper in his ears, drawing on the walls with his own blood and climbing the metal sink to talk into the ceiling vent.
It took more than a day for jail personnel to decide Thompson needed to go to the emergency room. When he returned to the jail, the violent struggle that ultimately killed him occurred. The video shows Thompson wriggling under a crowd of deputies who kicked him, kneeled heavily on his back and applied painful arm-bar holds.
During the struggle, some deputies used taunting language, saying they owned him, telling him they would make sure he “remembered it” if he lashed out and calling him stupid, an a**hole and a d**k. When he screamed for help, a deputy responded: “We are the help.”
That jail is run by Sheriff Chuck Allen who, like Sheriff David Clarke, just can’t stop having inmates coming out in body bags. But there seems to be a pattern with people coming in with mental illnesses or some kind of drug dependency:
- People like Thompson or Terrill Thomas, who are being held pending trial or are there to serve a brief sentence, come in with some kind of mental defect;
- Jailers are ill-equipped to deal with them, or don’t give a damn, but it ends in the same result: inmate is first cruelly neglected like Thompson, as he was left stuffing toilet paper in his ears and painting the walls with his blood for over 24 hours;
- If the inmate doesn’t stop the misconduct, or is not sent to the hospital to get proper treatment (or is sent back to the jail from the hospital), the inmate is likely to be brutalized by the screws for non-compliance, like Darren Rainey was when he was boiled to death in his cell;
- Then charges are rarely filed in these cases, which perpetuates this kind of depraved treatment by the guards. Rinse the cell floors of dried blood or pieces of skin, and repeat.
There’s also the cowardly element of more than a dozen guards beating and taunting Thompson as he laid on the floor wheezing beneath a spit hood, gasping for air and screaming for help in vain. It makes one wish there was a special hell for these cheap bullies to go to. And to paraphrase the contrarian extraordinaire Christopher Hitchens, if these guards were given an enema, each could be buried in a matchbox.
Thompson arrived at the hospital without a pulse on August 4, and it was not until five damn days later that the sheriff’s office notified Thompson’s family. On August 12, Thompson’s family took him off life support.
The deputies then sought an injunction to keep the video from the public eye, and once it was released, Sheriff Allen issued the following tripe as his official statement:
“I believe anyone who watches this video will understand why I was concerned about the handling of this incident and why I immediately called for an outside investigation,” he said in a written statement.
“I further, and firmly, believe that some of the actions shown do not reflect the standards of the men and women who work for the Sheriff’s Office. Nor are they in keeping with my often-expressed expectation that employees from this office will always treat the public we serve with fairness, equality and respect.”
Concerned? Well, he damn well should be. Three inmates have died while “struggling” with his guards since 2015. Over the past 2 years, 6 inmates have committed suicide at his jail, one of whom was Donald Torres, who drank so much water at the infirmary that he passed. Keely Darmody underwent withdrawal and threw up non-stop for three days, before she was found unresponsive next to a garbage can full of vomit.
Thompson’s death is a symptom of the complete disgrace that’s become Washoe County Jail. But no one seems to care, because after all, why should they? These are just criminals who are just getting their just deserts, right? It could never, ever happen to you or a loved one, because no one ends up in a county jail by mistake.