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Family Says Jail Allowed Inmate to Kill Father

(CN) - Video footage shows an inmate in an isolation cell being subjected to eight hours of harassment, physical attacks and injury by another inmate before ultimately being stomped to death, the family of the dead man claims in court.

Vernon Ramone White Sr., a 28-year-old black man, was jailed after a traffic stop.

At the time he was pulled over by police he had no license, no insurance and an outstanding bench warrant out for an unpaid traffic ticket.

After his arrest, White was taken to the Richwood Correctional Center in Richwood, La., which is about 10 minutes outside the city of Monroe.

While there, White had an altercation with another inmate and was moved into Lock Down Cell 7, "an isolation cell for problematic inmates."

Also in the lock down cell was Erie Moore, 57, who was about 75 pounds heavier than White and had been segregated from the prison population because of his "erratic and violent" behavior.

On the morning of October 13, 2015, Lt. Hardwell and Capt. Douglas learned of an altercation between Moore and White, the lawsuit says. Despite this, Moore and White were not separated.

Several hours later, a video recorded at the jail showed Moore gesticulating wildly, pointing and pacing, the lawsuit says.

The time was 5 p.m.

After a few moments passed, he was again captured on video, this time improvising a mask from a Styrofoam container and holding the mask to his face.

At 5:13 p.m., White banged on the door of the lock down cell. There is no apparent response captured on video.

At 5:14 pm, Moore can be seen on tape wrapping his arms around White, who tries, unsuccessfully, to escape.

Over the next hour, the video repeated captures footage of White being threatened and victimized by Moore, the complaint says.

Moore, White's family says, can clearly be seen grabbing White by the neck, punching him, and yelling and screaming at him.

At 5:22 p.m., the video shows Moore pushing White to the floor. It is the last time White is seen on video until his apparently lifeless body is dragged from the cell a half hour later.

In the interim, Moore can be seen violently kicking and stomping something just outside the frame. This, the complaint says, was White.

That White was dead or at least gravely incapacitated by 5:39 p.m. is evidence by video showing food trays being passed in the cell through a slot on the lower part of the door. Moore takes both trays and can be seen on video eating all or part of both meals, the complaint says.

At 6:08 pm, the video shows corrections officers entering the cell, knocking Moore to the floor and dragging White from the cell.

Paramedics were called and White was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The cell where White died was cleaned before the arrival of investigators from the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office, the complaint says.

Corrections Officer Danielle Walker, who was in charge of monitoring the video surveillance of Lock Down Cell 7, did not report that the cellmates were fighting, that Moore seemed to have stomped on White, that White disappeared from the view of the camera for several minutes, or that Moore accepted White's food at dinnertime and ate it, the lawsuit says.

Other isolation cells were available, but defendants decided to place White in the cell with Moore, who they knew was a violent inmate, the dead man's family claims.

Moore was dragged from the cell following White's removal and was beaten unconscious by guards before being taken to the hospital. He was dead on arrival. During an autopsy his body tested positive for PCP.

An inmate under the influence of PCP should never have been housed with another inmate, the lawsuit says.

The defendants are LaSalle Corrections Inc., Richwood Correctional Center LLC, Ray Hansen, Warden of RCC, Lt. Gerald Hardwell.

Sonita Singh, a recent doctoral graduate from Tulane University who evaluates the Department of Corrections as part of her research with Tulane and Louisiana State University, said in a phone interview Tuesday it is highly improbable to think the correction facility cameras were not being monitored and no one saw what was taking place inside the cell.

"There is no way in the jail not to watch your inmates," Singh said. "When a prison is well-run, there is no chance of not watching the surveillance"

But Patrick Jackson, an attorney in Bossier, La., who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Vernon White and his family, said inmate deaths in the Richwood Correctional Center are not uncommon, at least judging by the number of federal lawsuits filed against the jail.

"Apparently in this facility, this is nothing new," Jackson said.

Richwood is a private, for-profit facility, Jackson said.

A woman answering the phone at the Richwood Correctional Center said Tuesday that Warden Ray Hanson is on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Assistant Warden Archie Aultman then took the phone, but immediately said he had to take an important call and would call back. He hasn't.

White's wife, Lara White, who is also the mother of White's minor child, seeks punitive damages from each of the defendants based on their "malicious and deliberately indifferent actions."

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