Teen’s Prison Murder Wasn’t the First, His Parents Say

BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) — A slightly built 17-year-old boy with no charges filed against him was strangled to death in the “violent, racist, drug-infested” East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, his parents say in a federal lawsuit.

Tyrin Colbert was murdered by his cellmate on Feb. 18, 2016, his parents say in their Jan. 12 lawsuit against the city, parish and sheriff of East Baton Rouge, numerous prison officials and its medical contractor.

Tyrin, who weighed 129 lbs., was arrested on Nov. 4, 2015 and had not yet been charged with a crime when he was murdered 106 days later, that though 60-day deadline for charges to be filed had long past, according to the lawsuit and The (Baton Rouge) Advocate newspaper.

By then, however, he had been sexually assaulted by another prisoner, and reported it, on Nov. 25, and on Dec. 6 another prisoner broke his arm, and he was not taken to a hospital for X-rays and treatment for another five days, his parents say.

Tyrin was black.

His parents, Hosey and Shantita Colbert, say the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is “unconstitutionally violent and dangerous,” and that its officials are deliberately indifferent to its “violent, racist, drug-infested … filthy” conditions.

His cellmate, Kermitrius Thomas, has been charged with second-degree murder and is awaiting trial, according to the Advocate. Detectives believe the cellmates were fighting over a blanket when Thomas pulled Tyrin off his bunk and strangled him with it, according to the newspaper.

There were two other blankets in the cell. It was “the first inmate-on-inmate slaying at the facility in at least eight years,” a sheriff’s officer told the Advocate. The previous one came on Aug. 30, 2007, when a 32-year-old man accused of violating probation was beaten to death by bars of soap stuffed into socks. Two inmates were charged with second-degree murder, but never prosecuted.

Tyrin was arrested on Nov. 4, 2015, on a warrant stemming from accusations that he had tried to rape two young boys. He never was formally charged, according to the lawsuit and the Advocate.

Days after his arrest, Tyrin reported feeling suicidal, hearing voices, and having hallucinations, his parents say in the 25-page lawsuit. The prison’s deliberate indifference to his medical problems continued as it ignored his report of sexual assault and his broken arm, his parents say.

They say the “misclassification of detainees,” failure of prison staff to monitor prisoners’ living areas and protect them from assaults “are the result of explicit policies to detain prisoners in a dilapidated and understaffed facility and de facto policies and practices that leave prisoners unmonitored and unprotected.”

“Defects in physical design and manner of operation, including inadequate staffing, inadequate supervision techniques, and poor sightlines, create conditions of confinement where larger, stronger, and more violent prisoners are able to prey on smaller, weaker, and more docile prisoners.” These conditions “produce frequent violence and a continuous pattern of constitutional deprivations,” the Colberts say.

They say that “well known and consistent” failures of the prison have been publicly acknowledged by Warden Dennis Grimes and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, both of them defendants.

A year before Tyrin’s death, Grimes admitted to local media during a prison tour that cell doors cannot open and shut due to rust and that the layout makes it difficult to monitor the overpopulated prison.

At least four people have died at the prison since 2013 due to inadequate medical and mental health care, and in October 2015, an elected official acknowledged that the City Council about numerous problems, including understaffing, medical equipment shortages, and insufficient pay for medical staff, according to the lawsuit.

And, the Colberts say, the warden and the sheriff “knew or should have known” that guards illegally falsify prison monitoring logs.

In February 2016, shortly after Tyrin was killed, Sheriff Guatreaux’s spokesperson “was reported to acknowledge that Tyrin’s death proves that EBRPP is not safe for either EBRPP deputies or inmates,” according to the complaint.

Louisiana is one of only nine states that exclude 17-year-olds from the juvenile justice system for all offenses, and sends them to adult jails upon arrest, according to a 2015 report from the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights.

“Youth held in adult jails and prisons are at an increased risk for suicide, as well as physical and sexual assault,” the report states.

The Colberts’ attorney David Utter told the Advocate last week: “Baton Rouge has a jail that creates crime, is a threat to public safety.

“We’re putting people in a jail that is dangerous, violent and exposed people to all the wrong behaviors.”

Utter also represents the family of a man who committed suicide at the prison in 2015. Lamar Johnson died after taking synthetic marijuana, “a drug that is widely available and tolerated by guards,” according to Advocate.

The Colberts seek compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional violations, denial of medical care, failure to supervise, deliberate indifference, wrongful death, negligence, loss of consortium and other charges.

Attorney Utter is with The Claiborne Firm, of Savannah, Ga.

 

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