Jury Sees Jail Beating Video As Inmate Abuse Trial Continues - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Jury Sees Jail Beating Video As Inmate Abuse Trial Continues

Members of the federal jury hearing the inmate abuse trial against two former Harrison County jailers watched intently as the prosecution presented a video tape that shows what happened inside the booking room the night Jessie Lee Williams Jr. was beaten.

The video was shown to the jury late Thursday morning. Defendants Ryan Teel and Rick Gaston are both charged with felonies for their roles in a conspiracy to abuse inmates at the county jail.

The much anticipated video is a choppy, black and white recording of what happened when inmate Williams was brought to the booking room. The tape shows defendant Ryan Teel delivering a kick to Williams, seemingly unprovoked. The tape has video only and no audio.

The kick sends Jessie Lee Williams to the floor. That's where he and Teel tussle for a time. Teel can be seen apparently punching Williams while the inmate is on the floor, but you can't see the end result of that punch, since the inmate's body is below the camera view.

Perhaps the most disturbing section of video shows Teel picking up a hog-tied Williams and then dropping him face first onto the floor.  More blows to the inmate follow, before he's finally placed in a restraining chair.

More damaging than the video, may have been the compelling testimony of a Gulfport High ninth grader. Jeremy Brian Powell testified what he saw in the booking room that night.

Powell was visiting the jail the night of February 4, 2006, for a "career discovery" school assignment. That just happened to be the night Jessie Lee Williams was assaulted in the booking room.

The teenager recounted the details of the inmate abuse for a listening jury. The 16-year-old told jurors, "I just couldn't believe it was happening. That much brute force, it wasn't needed."

The young witness told of Teel punching, kicking, tasing and pepper spraying Williams. He said the inmate could do little to respond against the much larger jailer.

After describing how Teel picked up and then dropped a hog-tied Williams, Powell told the jury, "I thought it was disgusting. He just dropped him head first."

Powell testified, "They kept punching him in the back, telling him to be still. But he wasn't moving."

Jessie Lee Williams' brother, Terry Williams, watched the video and listened to the teen's testimony.  At several points during the video, the victim's brother could be seen slowly shaking his head, as if in disbelief, while his wife patted him on the back to console him.

The jury seemed absorbed by the testimony and the sometimes dramatic video images from inside the jail.

Powell's testimony was among several prosecution witnesses Thursday and several eye witnesses who saw what happened inside booking that night.

Reserve sheriff's deputy David DeLong was working on paperwork near the booking area that night. He testified he heard commotion, and what sounded like a fight.  He heard someone shout, "If you're going to do something, do it now."

DeLong subsequently watched Ryan Teel deliver several blows to inmate Williams. He told the jury, "I witnessed kicks to the back of Jessie's head."

Asked what his response was upon seeing such abuse, he testified, "I was a little bit in shock and awe at that point. I didn't know what to do."

He told the jury he did not see inmate Williams do anything to Teel. But DeLong said he later saw the end result. 

"I saw somebody who was severely beaten. There was blood from his ears and his eyes were swollen. I believe he was unconscious," he told the jury.

DeLong also testified he was there as a nurse tried to attend to Williams and assess his injuries. She looked into his eyes with a light and found his pupils fixed and dilated.

The witness said Teel then responded by saying, "He was a crackhead, what would you expect?"

Former sheriff's deputy Leo DeGeorge also testified he was surprised and taken aback by what he saw in booking that night. He was on his way outside for a break, when he saw Williams in an altercation with the guards. Williams was struggling and the officers involved, including Teel, said things were under control.

DeGeorge says he continued heading toward the back, but saw Teel deliver a knee blow to Jessie Lee Williams' head, while the inmate was on the ground.

"I was kind of shocked," he told the jury.

DeGeorge says he later assisted Teel in placing Williams into an inmate restraint chair. That chair, with seatbelt looking straps for restraining arms and legs, was shown to the jury as an exhibit.

DeGeorge testified he watched as Teel delivered an elbow to the face of Williams after he'd tightened one of the restraints.

He told the jury an angry Teel told Williams, "I'll kill you mother ------."

When asked why he didn't do anything, he responded that Teel was in charge, a supervisor of the booking area.

DeGeorge testified he then accompanied an unconscious Williams by ambulance to the hospital. He said Ryan Teel appeared in the same trauma room as the inmate. DeGeorge told of a conversation he overheard between Teel and the attending ER physician.

The doctor asked, "What happened to him [Williams]?"

DeGeorge says Teel responded, "We got into a fight."

"What did you hit him with," the doctor asked.

"My fists," Teel replied.

A Biloxi police officer also took the stand late Thursday. Kitt Manning testified about bringing a drunk and disorderly inmate, Casey Alves, to the booking area. He told the jury that Teel struck the inmate and forced him to the ground.

Manning said Teel sprayed the prisoner with pepper spray, then later put a pillowcase over the man's head.  He said all the force was administered while the inmate was cuffed.

After witnessing the incident, he recounted the experience to a supervisor later that night.

Manning testified he might have told that supervisors, "Alves took an ass whipping at the jail."

The government is still presenting its side of the case. Testimony resumes Friday morning at nine in federal court in Hattiesburg.

By Steve Phillips

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