Wayne County and several public officials are facing a civil rights lawsuit in the wake of the death of Wayne County inmate Graydon Jerome “Jerry” Parker III.
Margaret Jean Kelly, Parker’s mother and administrator of his estate, filed the lawsuit Tuesday, nearly two years after Parker died while in custody at the Wayne County jail.
Sheriff Larry Pierce, in his official capacity as Wayne County sheriff, and several individual correctional officers are named defendants in the case.
“We’re looking forward to vindicating Jerry’s rights and making sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Matthew Sullivan, with the White and Allen law firm in Kinston. “Based upon our investigation and as outlined in the complaint, Jerry was in an acute manic state and experiencing a psychiatric emergency when he was admitted to the jail and held in segregation for over nine hours.”
Pierce declined to comment on the lawsuit. Borden Parker, county attorney, was unavailable for comment.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Western Division. As of Thursday, Wayne County has not filed a response to the lawsuit, according to the U.S. District clerk of court.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call regarding a possible breaking and entering on Sanderson Road, Seven Springs, on May 20, 2017. Upon arrival, deputies learned the passenger window of a vehicle was broken, and deputies identified Parker as a suspect.
According to the lawsuit, Deputy Tyler Kelly, with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, responded to the call and found Parker lying in high grass across the road from his neighbor’s house. Parker told Kelly to “Go ahead and lock me up,” and “I knocked that window out.” When Kelly asked why, Parker replied, “Because God told me to.”
Parker was arrested and charged with injury to personal property and resisting an officer, and he was placed in the Wayne County jail under a $5,000 bond, the lawsuit continues.
Parker, who grew up in Goldsboro, had a history of alcoholism, depression and anxiety, according to the lawsuit. On six occasions, from 1998 to 2005, he was booked at the Wayne County jail for driving while impaired and a corresponding probation violation. Parker quit drinking alcohol in April 2014.
When Parker was admitted to the Wayne County jail, the lawsuit maintains that he was in an “acute manic state” and “experiencing a psychiatric emergency.” During his time spent in the jail, Parker’s mental state continued to deteriorate.
According to the lawsuit, the correctional officers handling Parker did not complete a medical or mental health screening, did not contact the Detention Center physician, Wayne County EMS, and or other health care providers, and did not obtain any medical treatment for Parker.
“Parker was sprayed multiple times with pepper spray, stripped naked and placed in a small segregation cell with only a toilet hole on the floor for nine hours,” the lawsuit reads. “Parker’s manic symptoms progressed and his mental state deteriorated throughout his detention due to the lack of any medical care.”
The lawsuit maintains that Parker sustained “severe personal injuries throughout his confinement,” as a direct result of the listed defendants’ “deliberate indifference, medical malpractice and excessive force.”
Parker’s time in jail
Parker was taken to the jail’s shower room around 9:37 p.m. May 20 by Sgt. Xavier Lee and correctional officers Brent Woodall, Jose Arias, Robert Hines and Nathaniel Neal after smearing feces on the wall, according to the lawsuit. During that time, Parker was pepper sprayed in the face more than 10 times and with hot water.
When Parker became upset, he was thrown to the floor and repeatedly kicked, stomped and punched all over his body and head by Lee, Woodall, Hines, Arias and Neal, the lawsuit continues. While Parker was on the floor naked, bleeding and breathing heavily, Lee, Woodall, Hines, Arias and Neal hog-tied him by pulling his arms and legs behind his back and applying handcuffs, leg shackles and a hobble restraint.
“While restraining Mr. Parker and applying the hog-tie, these Defendants sprayed him with OC spray (pepper spray), forced him onto his stomach, used a Nova electronic stun shield to shock him and push down on his back, shackled his legs behind his back, applied a handcuff to his wrist, kicked and stomped him, held him face-down with their bodies and legs, punched him multiple times in the head, face, and body, kneed him, shocked him with a Taser X26 stun gun, and applied a choke hold,” the lawsuit reads.
Trooper Charles Grainger, with the N.C. Highway Patrol, watched and assisted the officers as they were hog-tying Parker, according to the lawsuit. Grainger also encouraged the officers to “knock him out.”
Parker was tased twice and electric barbs were deployed twice, the lawsuit continues. Once Parker became unconscious, Lee secured the handcuffs and left him on his stomach in the hog-tie position. Several minutes later, Grainger noticed Parker was turning blue and was not breathing.
Wayne County Emergency Medical Services transported Parker to Wayne UNC Health Care, according to the lawsuit. EMT’s asked the officers to remove the restraints, but they refused.
Parker’s heart was resuscitated and lost twice during the drive and once upon arrival at the hospital, the lawsuit reads. Parker’s restraints were removed later at the request of the hospital’s medical staff.
Parker suffered “numerous injuries, including brain swelling with some subarachnoid blood, right frontal scalp hematoma, multiple scalp abrasions and lacerations, right orbital fracture, right preorbital hematoma, nasal fracture, right maxillary sinus fracture, thyroid cartilage fracture with hemorrhages in the neck, left chest wall contusion, liver lacerations with associated hematoma, ligature marks on both ankles and wrists and multiple areas of abrasions and bruising throughout the body,” according to the lawsuit.
The N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released an autopsy report of Parker’s death to the News-Argus in October 2017. The report concluded that Parker died May 22 from a lack of oxygen to the brain after going into cardiac arrest shortly after suffering blunt force trauma, physical restraint, pepper spray and stun gun use on May 20.
Parker was pronounced brain dead on May 21 at 4:35 p.m., but his body was maintained on life support in an attempt to remove organs for donation on May 22.
The report classified Parker’s death as a homicide. District Attorney Matthew Delbridge said, in an email sent to the News-Argus in October 2017, that “The word homicide as used in this context is a term of art and does not necessarily equate to an unlawful act.”
Sullivan, Kelly’s attorney, began working on the case shortly after Parker’s death two years ago.
“It’s taken us quite a bit of time to gather the information,” Sullivan said. “We wanted to be as thorough as possible.”
Sullivan and Carlos Mahoney, attorney with Durham-based Glenn, Mills, Fisher and Mahoney law firm, had to wait for the State Bureau of Investigation to complete its death investigation, said Mahoney. The investigation was not completed until 2018. Mahoney said they also had to obtain the SBI investigation report, as well as video footage from the Wayne County jail.
Several experts were also brought on to review the case, including psychiatrists, a nurse practitioner, a correctional expert and a use of force expert, Mahoney said.
“The family wants to achieve vindication for what Jerry went through,” said Mahoney. “This is something that he should have never had gone through.”
The lawsuit names Wayne County; Larry Pierce, in his official capacity as sheriff of Wayne County; Western Surety Co.; individuals Willie D. Sparks, Ryan A. Narron, Anthony J. Santagata, Lewis A. Garner, Xavier D. Lee, Brent A. Woodall, Jose F. Arias, Robert C. Hines, Nathaniel A. Neal, Charles S. Grainger; Southern Health Partners; and Jane Doe LPN, as defendants in the case.
Jerilyn Lee, Wayne County human resources director, said Woodall, Santagata and Garner are no longer Wayne County employees.
Lee declined to confirm the dates Woodall, Santagata and Garner became no longer employed by the county or the salaries of any of the officers still working with the county.
Kelly is seeking compensatory damages from the listed defendants for Parker’s “personal injuries and wrongful death,” among other listed punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, litigation expenses, cost of court and interest and other reliefs the court may deem just in the case.
Kelly is also seeking a trial by jury on all disputed issues.
“The detention officers and the jail nurse were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs and he was then subjected to excessive force by five officers and a state trooper,” Sullivan said.
“This never should have happened to Jerry.”