There was dramatic testimony and a rather dramatic development Tuesday in the federal inmate abuse trial of former Harrison County jailers Ryan Teel and Rick Gaston.
The event came late in the day, when a female juror was dismissed from service. The woman, from Purvis, was let go because of her inattentive behavior during the trial. She suffers from a health condition that could contribute to the problem. She was dismissed after she was questioned and failed to recall some critical testimony in the case.
The juror's dismissal means there are no longer any alternate jury members. Another juror was dismissed before the trial began, after her daughter was involved in an auto accident. This now leaves the case with just 12 jurors. A normal federal trial includes 12 jurors and two alternates.
Ryan Teel was the key witness of the day. The defendant took the witness stand in his own defense shortly after the trial began at 9am Tuesday. Teel spent more than three hours on the witness stand, telling his side of things to the jury.
His story about his actions in the booking area of the jail differed greatly from the accounts recalled by numerous prosecution witnesses.
Teel admitted that force was used in the booking area, but only an amount of force necessary to maintain control of the facility.
He did admit he had witnessed numerous assaults on inmates by other jailers, primarily in the shower area, which could not be seen by the video cameras.
Much of Teel's testimony centered on the altercation with Jessie Lee Williams Jr. He's the inmate who died from injuries he sustained at the jail. Williams' death is what sparked the federal investigation that resulted in this trial.
Teel says he "never used excessive force" against Mr. Williams. He described the inmate as "resisting and combative" during much of their encounter.
Teel told the jury, "I never wanted to use force against Mr. Williams. I never wanted to use force against anyone."
His description of the force he used against inmate Williams was directly contrary to the events described by earlier witnesses, including fellow jailers.
Teel testified he never hit or kicked Jessie Lee Williams in the head. Several earlier witnesses had described "forceful" kicks and punches by Teel, delivered to the inmate's head.
The husky Teel said he was in fear for his life during his confrontation with Williams. He described how the inmate lunged at him, tried to choke him, and tried to grab his taser.
"I was hurting. I was out of breath and it felt like I couldn't go on much longer," he told the jury, "I took that as an assault. I was in fear for my life."
He described how both he and Williams slammed into a wall during one point in their struggle. Teel said he was "dazed" by the contact.
He told the jury he did "hog tie" Williams, something that is in direct violation of sheriff's department policy, which forbids such restraint. Teel said it was "necessary" under the time because of the "extreme" circumstances.
Prosecutor John Richmond questioned the use of force, especially since Williams was restrained with handcuffs or a restraining wrap during much of the incident.
The government attorney also pointed out the enormous size difference between the inmate and the jailer. Jessie Lee Williams Jr. was five feet six inches tall and 160 pounds. Teel is six foot two and weighed 285 pounds at the time of the altercation.
There was a particularly heated exchange between Richmond and Teel late in the day. The attorney was asking Teel about comments he allegedly made during the fight. Several witnesses recalled Teel saying he was going to "kill" Mr. Williams.
Teel could not recall making such a statement. Richmond said, "You made good on that promise, didn't you Mr. Teel."
Teel responded, "That's an absurd statement. I don't even know how to respond to that."
Richmond countered, "It's not absurd, it's true. Mr. Williams is dead."
Late in his testimony, Teel offered his sympathy to the Williams family in the courtroom. He told them, "I'm deeply sorry for the family and their loss. But ultimately I don't believe I did anything to cause his death."
He testified, "I don't feel excessive force was used on Mr. Williams."
Teel also told the jury he was sure co-defendant Rick Gaston knew about "questionable" uses of force in the booking area.
Responding to another incident, Teel said he never "tased anyone" in the privates. Earlier witnesses said Teel shot a male inmate in the crotch and later bragged about it.
Teel testified, "It might have been the lower legs or small of the bag, but I never tased anyone in the privates."
The defense for Ryan Teel rested at about 3:30pm Tuesday.
The defense of Rick Gaston began with a flurry of law enforcement witnesses late in the afternoon. Some six witnesses took the stand to describe the demeanor of inmates Gaston is accused of using excessive force against.
They testified, based upon their personal encounters, that the inmates in question were all prone to violence. They said these individuals were known for their violent behavior.
Gaston's defense team has renewed its motion that his case be separated from Teel's. The judge again denied that motion, as he's done several times before.
Testimony in the case resumes at 9am Wednesday morning.