JACKSON, Miss. – Three former police officers who were indicted by a Mississippi grand jury joked around about a Black man who died in their custody, with one of them questioning whether to call an ambulance for the man immediately, body-camera footage shows.
Officials in the state capital of Jackson announced Wednesday that a Mississippi grand jury had indicted two former police officers on murder charges and another ex-officer on a manslaughter charge in the death of Keith Murriel, who is seen on video being pinned down and repeatedly shocked with stun guns during a New Year’s Eve arrest. The city released hours of body-camera footage detailing the encounter, which The Associated Press reviewed.
The officers had tackled Murriel while arresting him for allegedly trespassing at a hotel after they asked him to leave the building's parking lot. The footage showed then-officers Avery Willis, Kenya McCarty and James Land struggling to handcuff Murriel as he was stunned numerous times for over 10 minutes.
McCarty and Willis are Black, and Land is white, according to Melissa Faith Payne, a city spokesperson.
After officers handcuffed Murriel, they placed him horizontally in the back of a patrol car. Seventeen minutes of the hourlong body-camera footage shows officers trying to place Murriel inside the vehicle. The remaining 43 minutes of the footage don’t show paramedics arriving or the officers checking on Murriel to see if he needed immediate medical aid. The footage is broken up into multiple clips, and it is unclear whether officers attended to Murriel off-camera.
What is clear is that during that 43-minute period, the officers joked around about the encounter.
“I hope (he) is asleep. Because if he’s asleep, it’ll be a good ride,” Willis is heard saying on camera, using a racial slur to refer to Murriel. “It was funny seeing (his) feet in the air … In the beginning, it was funny. After a while it got annoying.”
After officers left Murriel in the patrol vehicle, Willis said he was going to call a sergeant to ask when officers should call an American Medical Response, or AMR, ambulance.
“I don’t know if he wants to wait until we get down (to the station) to do this, until I give him AMR,” Willis said. “That way he's at least already down there, because if we open the door, he's going to try to get out.”
The clip from Willis’ body camera ends after one hour. Paramedics arrived 12 minutes into the next clip from Willis' body camera. When a paramedic opened the back door of the patrol vehicle, he noticed Murriel wasn’t breathing.
McCarty then told one of the paramedics Murriel was “on something.” The Jackson Police Department has not indicated whether any narcotics were detected in Murriel’s toxicology report.
Paramedics performed CPR before transporting Murriel to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. On Willis' body-camera footage, he can be heard telling someone Murriel choked on his own vomit.
In an email, Francis Springer, an attorney for McCarty, wrote that her client “sincerely laments Mr. Muriel’s death and has the most sincere condolences for his family and friends.”
“Ms. McCarty doesn’t believe she is guilty of the crime for which she is indicted or of any other crime. She will enter a not-guilty plea,” Springer wrote.
An attorney for Land declined to comment. The Hinds County District Attorney’s Office and Hinds County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether Willis had retained an attorney.
Daryl Washington, an attorney for Murriel's family, said the language and tactics used by the officers justified their indictment.
“It makes you wonder how these officers act when they are not captured on their own body cam,” Washington said. "But these officers knew that their body cams were on, and they felt very comfortable because they believed nothing would happen to them. Fortunately, Keith’s family is not going to allow this to be swept under the rug like a lot of these cases usually are.”
Murriel's family has filed a civil lawsuit against the officers. Washington said city officials did not give them enough time to view the footage before it was released to the public. Some family members saw the footage for the first time in news reports.
"We expected to at least have a couple of days or so to prepare ourselves,” he said.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said at Wednesday’s news conference that the city was now releasing body-camera footage because a Mississippi Bureau of Investigation probe of the death had been completed. The officers — all ex-members of the Jackson Police Department — were indicted on May 12.
All three officers were placed on administrative leave after the incident. McCarty was fired in February, and Willis and Land in April.
Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones told WJTV-TV that Land is out of jail on a $75,000 bond, and McCarty is out on a $150,000 bond. The sheriff on Wednesday said Willis had not yet been arrested and a spokesperson for the department did not respond to a phone message Thursday inquiring whether he was in custody.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mikergoldberg.