3 On Your Side Investigates: Jailed and Abused

Updated: Nov. 20, 2019 at 11:24 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond has been a source of frustration for decades, and is now once again the subject of a lawsuit: A lawsuit by a mother whose son’s brutal attack was caught on surveillance video.

Another scathing report was just released from the federal monitor on the lack of improvements at the facility ordered in a consent decree.

A 3 On Your Side investigation digs into how it happened and what’s being done to keep it from happening again.

“It is very painful.”

Joanne Palmer said it still hurts to think of what happened to her son, Landon Veal, in the Hinds County Detention Center September 2018. In surveillance video shared with 3 On Your Side by her attorney Chuck Mullins, you can see inmates preparing for, then carrying out, a devastating attack on Veal.

Mullins, Palmer’s attorney, said, “Several inmates were out of their cells, wrapping their faces with towels and t-shirts, preparing for an attack. It was very apparent, but because the jail has little to no supervision, apparently no one is watching the video that’s occurring or they could’ve stepped in minutes before and just prevented this brutal attack. Why they didn’t do that? I don’t know. We’ll find out later as we do depositions and get more involved in the case.”

In the video, you can see one inmate approach the then 35-year-old and knock him to the ground. For at least three minutes, you see other inmates take turns punching and kicking Veal, who appears to already be unconscious. Guards enter the room but do nothing to help Veal, who is beaten so badly, he now suffers from a traumatic brain injury.

Joanne Palmer said, “It’s very heartbreaking for me to see that they saw what happened to my son; went over and looked to see that he was incapacitated and did not show a sense of urgency at all and that’s what’s very appalling to me.”

Palmer’s attorney, Chuck Mullins, said, “If they at least try to do their job, we couldn’t really have a lawsuit against them because it’s so difficult to prove what we have to prove, but they’re not doing their job. I mean, it’s just absolutely no caring at all, whatsoever. And you can see it in that video. You can see it in the other cases that we’ve had and something needs to be done.”

That message is not lost on incoming Hinds County Sheriff Lee Vance.

Vance said, “It’s a safety issue for everybody. People’s lives are at stake. Both people that are housed there and detention officers.”

An issue that is noted in this just released report from the Court-Appointed federal monitor in the case of the United States versus Hinds County. It’s the 9th monitoring report since 2013 when Hinds County was put under a consent decree to make improvements at the jail.

In the executive summary of the three jail facilities being monitored, the Raymond Detention Center, Jackson Detention Center and Work Center, the report states, “At the latter two facilities progress is being made toward compliance, but at the Raymond Detention Center or RDC, the living conditions for inmates and working conditions for state continue to decline.”

In a particularly disturbing entry, the monitor cites a June 2019 incident where the detention center experienced three riots in A Pod...."where staff lost control of the majority of the housing units and almost ceded the pod control room as well. The situation was so critical that staff even planned on retreating to the control room’s bathroom in the event that the inmates were able to breach the control room entry door."

The report finds the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office not in compliance “with almost every aspect.” With only 218 of the 271 funded positions filled when the site was visited in September.

Mullins said, “Lack of staffing, lack of supervision, lack of training of the correctional officers and essentially a failure to protect the inmates and this was in August, September of 2013. To this day, I don’t know how many experts have gone down, from the federal government and from other agencies and they’ve all reported the same thing and to this day, nothing has changed; nothing has been done to rectify that.”

“It’s a total institution... out of control situation," continued Mullins.

Vance points to design flaws that have plagued the facility since it opened in 1994. In archive footage, then Sheriff Malcolm McMillin notes the problems on day one.

McMillin said, “We can’t house the inmates in here because the doors don’t lock and most of the cameras don’t work.”

And the situation has caused headaches for sheriffs since then.

Lee Vance said, “It’s not anything that a sheriff can do independent of the board of supervisors. The facility actually belongs to the board of supervisors.”

“Of course, the county’s saying we don’t have the money to do the things that we have to do to get the jail up to snuff. They don’t really disagree that there are problems at the jail, but they’re just saying we don’t have the money,” said Chuck Mullins.

Vance also points to the need for speedier trials.

“For now, these folks that are housed there are pre-trial detainees, so working these folks through the criminal justice system is going to be a big part of the solution. You have individuals that are housed there, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years. That’s problematic,” said Vance.

Vance said because of the condition of the facility, cell doors that don’t lock, low hanging ceilings that can easily be breached for escape and more, he’s not confident that his department will be able to come into compliance with the mandates as they are written write now.

“So, there’s going to have to be a consensus among, especially people in the criminal justice system in Hinds County, as to how we’re going to move forward. My idea kinda centers around calculating costs and comparing how much it costs to operate that place presently as opposed to perhaps getting some estimates, some proposals as to how much it would cost to build and operate a new facility and I think that we’re at that point presently and I don’t know that we can afford to keep kicking that can down the road,” said Vance.

Meanwhile, Joanne Palmer said, to this day, she has never been contacted by anyone from the current administration of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department.

Palmer said, “As a resident of Jackson and Hinds County, it make me very sad that they’re very uncaring and not even to respond to me as a mother. No doubt they may be a parent and had this happened to their child, whatever the situation had been and no one reached out to, I’m sure they would feel the same pain I feel.”

Chuck Mullins said, “If we can prevent one more family to not have to go through this, maybe that will be a positive result for this case at the end of the day.”

For Joanne Palmer, it’s too little too late for her son, Landon Veal, and she wants justice.

“I mean, he has to be taken care of for the rest of his life. And I’m the one that’s going to make sure that that’s done and I would like to have ample compensation for that because my life is put on hold,” said Palmer.

Lee Vance tells me he thinks the best solution is to tear down the Raymond Detention Center instead of continually spending funds to fix it.

Vance says that money could be used to house the inmates at other facilities around the state, while a new and better facility is built in Hinds County.

I reached out to Hinds County Supervisor Robert Graham for comment.

In an email to me, Graham responded: “The Hinds County Board of Supervisors is committed to improving the overall conditions at the Raymond Detention Center and have taken several positive steps towards that end. The Board stands ready to support the incoming Sheriff, Lee Vance, with the resources that he needs in order to maintain the jail and address the issues that have been brought forth by the U. S. Department of Justice.”

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