Attorneys for Harvey Hill's family say the 36-year-old was brutally beaten by employees at the Madison County Detention Center last May. Credit: The Cochran Firm - Mississippi Delta

The family of a man who died a day after being booked into the Madison County jail says his jailers beat and tortured him before leaving him to die in his cell, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday.

The wrongful death suit alleges that after jail employees intervened in an altercation between Harvey Hill, 36, and another inmate during mealtime on May 6, 2018, they handcuffed him, beat him, used pepper spray on him and then threw him back into his cell. Hill, who was found in his cell the next day, was taken to Merit Central Hospital in Jackson, where he was pronounced dead.

“We say that was a custom and a practice that was tolerated by Madison County Detention personnel,” said Derek Sells of the New York and Mississippi Delta-based Cochran Firm, which is representing Hill’s family. “When one of the guards took offense at what prisoners did, they would beat them. And they would punish them in cruel and unusual ways in order to try and set an example.”

The lawsuit names Madison County and its sheriff Randy Tucker as a defendant in his suit, as well as several other jail employees. A spokesman for the Madison County Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday afternoon that it had not yet been served with the suit and could not comment on it at the time.

Attorneys for the family said a private investigator has secured eyewitnesses of the beating and that they believe video exists.

The altercation and alleged beating occurred the same day Hill was arrested on a misdemeanor trespassing charge, a conviction for which would have likely yielded only a $300-$500 fine, Carlos Moore, one of the attorneys, said.

A report in the Madison County Journal at the time said that Hill, identified in previous news reports as Harvey Terrill Turner, had been arrested by the Madison Police Department while sitting on a porch swing at a Madison home. The Journal reported that Hill had a previous conviction for sexual battery from 2001.

After Hill’s death, Hill’s former employer told the Journal that Hill had repeatedly visited his home that week but that “the pair had no ongoing feud and that there was no missing money. ”

At the time of his death, Tucker said Hill had gotten into an altercation with jail employees after becoming “erratic,” according to the Journal. Tucker said that Hill was first transported to Merit Health Madison in Canton the next day for possible cardiac arrest before he was taken to Jackson.

Moore said Hill’s was one of three suspicious deaths surrounding the jail last year. Moore contended Madison County has yet to release an autopsy report for Hill or two other people who died following stays at the jail in 2018, whose families he is also representing.

One of those people was Lanekia Brown, 37, who died shortly before Christmas. Brown was pregnant at the time, said her family, and had been in the jail since Nov. 26.

Another, Larry Thompson, 51, had his legs amputated after being released from the jail in November, and died shortly thereafter on Dec. 1, according to Moore.

Moore said he had been informed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice are investigating Hill’s death.

Hill’s family and attorneys described him on Tuesday as a good man who cared deeply for his three pitbulls, Conflict, Oreo and Ears.

“He had a great heart,” said Hill’s sister, Katrina Nettles. “He would help anyone, he was just a sweetheart. And we just want justice. What he went though, he didn’t have to go through, and for that we want justice.”

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Michelle Liu was a 2018 corps member for Report for America, a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms. She covered criminal justice issues across the state from June 2018 until May 2020. Prior to joining the Mississippi Today team, her work appeared in the New Haven Independent.