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Law enforcement official told detainee who died that ‘you shouldn’t be able to breathe,’ lawsuit says


A federal lawsuit has been filed in Tennessee by the daughter of a man who died while in jail custody in May 2020, according to the complaint.

In the complaint filed in October 2020 and amended in February 2021, Dominique Jennette alleges her father, William Jennette, 48, died as a result of “savage beating, suffocation” while in custody at the Marshall County Jail. She is seeking unspecified punitive damages.

The complaint names four deputies from the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, three police officers from the Lewisburg Police Department, Marshall County, and the City of Lewisburg as defendants.

William Jennette was arrested on May 4, 2020, “for non-violent offenses by members of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office” and was being held awaiting trial, the complaint says.

CNN reached out to the MCSO requesting Jennette’s May 4 arrest report and a comment on the case but has not heard back.

CNN reached out to the attorney for the police officers named in the lawsuit but did not immediately receive a response. CNN emailed the Marshall County mayor for comment.

The complaint says Jennette began beating his cell door with his fists and deputies moved to extract him from his cell.

According to the autopsy report’s summary of the case, after deputies entered the cell, Jennette “began to fight the officers” and was subsequently pepper sprayed twice and taken to the ground.

The case gained national attention after reporting from CNN affiliate WTVF.

Surveillance video from the Marshall County Jail, obtained by WTVF, shows Jennette struggling with jail deputies who can be seen punching him and pepper spraying him with a substance after he has exited the cell.

The video shows three sheriff’s deputies continue to struggle with Jennette and are unable to gain control of him. The struggle lasted at least 2 minutes and 40 seconds, according to the video.

The surveillance video shows a responding officer from the Lewisburg Police Department arriving and authorities are able to bring Jennette to the ground.

Body cam video from the Lewisburg Police Officer and the surveillance video show authorities continue to struggle with Jennette before they are eventually able to handcuff him.

“He was placed in handcuffs and leg shackles in a prone position,” the autopsy report says.

Jennette can be heard screaming, “Help me. They are going to kill me,” in the body worn camera video, which included audio.

In the body came video, deputies request leg restraints.

Jennette can then be heard saying, “I can’t breathe,” to which a member of law enforcement can be heard saying, “You shouldn’t be able to breathe, you stupid B*tch.”

While the struggle continues, a law enforcement officer can be heard in the body cam video saying, “Easy. Easy. Remember asphyxiation guys.”

According to the body cam video, another law enforcement officer, who can be seen kneeling on a portion of Jennette’s back, can be heard saying, “That’s why I’m not on his lungs.”

During the course of the confrontation, law enforcement can be heard discussing and eventually confirming EMS is on the way, though it’s not immediately clear if medical attention was requested for law enforcement or Jennette.

Officers called EMS due to a laceration and then Jennette “began to change colors and CPR was initiated,” the autopsy report says.

During the struggle, a law enforcement officer can be heard saying, “I can’t tell if he’s breathing.”

Jennette is then rolled over, and blood is on his face, the body cam video shows. The video obtained by WTVF then stops.

The Lewisburg Police Department declined to comment, and instead directed CNN to a City of Lewisburg statement, which said their officers responded to the situation because of a mutual aid agreement they have with the County Jail.

“Mr. Jennette’s passing as a result of him being in the Jail is indeed unfortunate,” the City said, although it declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit. “We respect the right of Mr. Jennette’s family to address his loss thru their civil action. And, we are confident that the judicial system will provide a fair and just outcome for all parties involved in the lawsuit.”

Jennette was eventually transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead shortly after arrival, according to the autopsy report. The report says methamphetamine, amphetamine and diphenhydramine were present in Jennette’s blood.

“The cause of death (is) acute combined drug intoxication,” the report says. “A contributory cause of death is asphyxia. The manner of death is consistent with homicide.”

“Our lawsuit alleges Mr. Jennette died because he was subjected to excessive force in violation of his constitutional rights, and that the law enforcement agencies failed to provide proper training on how to restrain an inmate without killing him,” attorneys for Dominique Jennette said in a statement.

“We are prevented by the local rules of court from commenting further, but we look forward to pursuing justice on behalf of Mr. Jennette’s family.”

District Attorney Robert Carter confirmed to CNN that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation presented the case to a grand jury, which declined to bring charges.

“We were prepared to prosecute and would have had they indicted,” Carter said.

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