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Officer to Dying Man: 'You Shouldn't Be Able to Breathe'

Video shows 2020 encounter that ended with William Jennette's death
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 21, 2021 9:35 AM CDT

(Newser) – "Help me! They're going to kill me," William Jennette shouted at a responding police officer as corrections officers wrestled with him in a Tennessee county jail. Once he was taken to the ground, police officers joined jailers in holding the handcuffed father of five in the prone position for almost four minutes. As officers pressed into his back, the 48-year-old said he couldn't breathe. "You shouldn't be able to breathe, you stupid bastard," an officer responded. The inmate at Marshall County Jail in Lewisburg was soon dead, reports WTVF, which obtained video of the May 6, 2020, encounter. Arrested two days earlier for resisting arrest, public intoxication, and indecent exposure, Jennette was detoxing and suffering from hallucinations, jail records show. Corrections officers had called for back-up, saying he wouldn't get in a restraint chair.

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Officers bent Jennette's legs to his back, seeming to direct more pressure onto his middle, even after he said he couldn't breathe. At one point, an officer warned about asphyxiation. But an officer mocked Jennette, saying "I can’t breathe," while her colleagues laughed, per the Washington Post. The man's last words—"I'm good"—came as an officer pressed his knee into Jennette's back. "You're going to lay right there for a f---ing minute," he said. Jennette had several fractured ribs, per the Daily Beast. His death was ruled a homicide due to "asphyxia," though the primary cause was given as "acute combined drug intoxication." A grand jury declined to bring criminal charges, though an expert on use of force tells WTVF that the video shows "the exact opposite of what generally accepted training has taught officers for the last 25 years." Jennette's daughter, Dominique, is suing several officers, the county, and the city of Lewisburg. (Read more inmate deaths stories.)

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