Lawsuit filed against Adams County Sheriff’s Office

Published 12:51 am Sunday, March 19, 2017


NATCHEZ — The family of a man who died in the Adams County Jail in 2016 has filed a federal lawsuit against the county and sheriff’s office seeking damages.

The civil lawsuit was filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi’s Western Division.

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The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the juvenile children of Joseph “Joey” Sturdivant, 32, through their mother. Sturdivant reportedly committed suicide inside his county jail cell the same day he was reportedly assaulted in the jail.

The lawsuit also names Victor Lee Smith, Drasilla Rounds and Carla Dunn as defendants. The three were employed at the jail at the time of the reported incident.

Smith along with Jerome Harris and Kelcey Watson were indicted in November 2016 on charges of aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit a crime for reportedly assaulting Sturdivant on March 17, 2016.

Sturdivant was found later that same day hanging by the neck from a handmade rope reportedly made from a bed sheet. A preliminary autopsy ruled Sturdivant’s death a suicide.

The lawsuit claims that ACSO failed to protect Sturdivant from suffering abuse while in jail.

The lawsuit claims Sturdivant was jumped by four inmates, including Watson and Harris, at breakfast on the day of the incident. As a result, Sturdivant and at least two other inmates were put in the hole.

At approximately 11:05 a.m. that day, Smith, who was a jailer, reportedly released Harris and Watson from their cells and left keys so that Watson could open Sturdivant’s cell and let in Harris.

Sturdivant’s lunch tray reportedly was delivered at approximately 12:05 p.m. and retrieved in at approximately 12:45. At approximately 1 p.m., another inmate walked by Sturdivant’s cell and began waving at the security cameras for help. Twenty minutes later, ACSO employees found Sturdivant dead, court documents state.

The lawsuit claims similar incidents involving Smith and other inmates had occurred in the past, and that Smith and two inmates beat and choked Sturdivant that day and previous days.

Among other accusations, the lawsuit asserts that, as a result of the “acts and omissions of the individual defendants’ failure to protect (Sturdivant) from violence at the other inmates and themselves, Joey Sturdivant’s constitutional rights guaranteed under the Eighth Amendment to the protection from violence and prevention of death were violated and caused his death.”

Sturdivant’s family is seeking actual damages for future loss of income, medical and funeral expenses; hedonic damages for the loss of enjoyment of life which Sturdivant suffered; compensatory damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience, mental anguish, humiliation, shame, loss of self-esteem, fear and embarrassment which Sturdivant suffered; compensatory damages to Sturdivant’s wrongful death beneficiaries for loss of affection and companionship; punitive damages against the defendants and attorney fees and costs.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten declined to comment on the lawsuit since it is pending, but said he would comment once the lawsuit has concluded.