Local News

Story published: 05-06-2014 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Second lawsuit filed in death of inmate

By Karen Sells
Assistant Editor

With their federal case still under way, Joe and Natasha Peppers filed a second lawsuit April 16 in Washington County Circuit Court related to the death of their son, Stewart W. Peppers, in April 2013 while incarcerated in the Detention Center.

According to the complaint, Peppers’ parents are suing six corrections officers, each individually, for alleged common law assault and battery and the alleged wrongful death of their son. Sheriff Ed Graybeal and Washington County also are listed as defendants being sued pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act.

The claim is seeking an undefined dollar amount of damages for pain and suffering, pecuniary value of life; funeral expenses; healthcare expenses; pre-judgment and post-judgment interest; punitive damages; and such further and general relief to which the family may be entitled.

The second lawsuit refers to the same alleged charges included in the $20 million claim filed in Federal Court in July of last year, which claims Peppers’ death was the result of injuries sustained in an alleged 20-minute beating by corrections officers at the jail.

Peppers was incarcerated on charges including aggravated assault, unlawful possession of a weapon and the manufacture of a controlled substance.

All parties agree Peppers was housed alone in a single cell on April 29, 2013, when he reportedly became incensed and began shouting obscenities at jail personnel on duty.

Peppers’ parents say their son endured chemical sprays, a Taser and two beatings – one while strapped to a chair.

In an answer to the federal complaint, defendants admitted to using both a Taser and chemical spray, but deny any beating took place. According to the court documents filed by attorney Jeff Ward, “...the defendants used the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to try and control an extremely strong and manic individual who posed a severe threat to the officers, to himself and to the security of the WCDC.”

When it was determined Peppers had stopped breathing and did not have a pulse, the document states, CPR was started and EMS was called immediately. Peppers was transported by ambulance to an area hospital where he died a short time later.

The autopsy report released Jan. 24 indicates Peppers died from “excited delirium associated with the misuse of Nandrolone Decanoate, exogenous testosterone and acute cannabinoid.”

In March, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer granted a motion for partial dismissal of the federal lawsuit, which dismissed claims against individual plaintiffs in their official capacities. Greer also stated in his order that the Circuit Court has the exclusive jurisdiction for Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act claims.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Inman denied the plaintiffs’ motion for discovery filed in April, stating it would be inappropriate while the defendants’ motion seeking immunity is still pending.