Family, lawyer, activists blast Milwaukee jail for ‘preventable’ suicide

The family of Brieon Green says he committed suicide in his jail cell as a guard walked past

By: - December 5, 2022 7:00 am
The family of Brieon Green stand with attorney B’iVory LaMarr on Thursday night after having viewed video of Green's death. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

The family of Brieon Green stand with attorney B’iVory LaMarr on Thursday night after having viewed video of Green’s death. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Conditions in the Milwaukee County Jail are under scrutiny following a Thursday meeting between Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and the family of Brieon Green. In June, the 21-year-old Green was found dead in his jail cell hours after being arrested for misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, carrying a concealed weapon, and three counts of felony bail jumping. Green’s family was able to view security footage Thursday which shows Green strangling himself with a phone cord.

One of the family’s attorneys B’iVory LaMarr, pointed out that a correctional officer walked by Green’s cell as he was taking his own life. The video has not been released, nor have other details of  the investigation, conducted by the Waukesha County sheriff’s department. During a Thursday night press conference with the family, LaMarr highlighted that Green suffered from mental illness.

Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to call for transparency in the death of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to call for transparency in the death of Brieon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

LaMarr said that the jail was aware of Green’s mental health, and previous suicide attempts while he’d been in custody previously. The attorney said the jail “completely dismissed that knowledge,” and charged that  protocols and procedures to protect people held within the jail weren’t followed.

“What we were able to witness was video surveillance taken from this facility whereas Brieon Green entered into the facility, went through a booking process which we don’’t believe was followed adequately, and essentially 28 minutes later utilized what was supposed to be an anti-suicidal phone cord … put that around his neck and ultimately take his own life,” said LaMarr. “One of the most disturbing aspects of what we witnessed today was that this incident was completely preventable. We saw an officer go by Brieon Green’s cell during the course of him taking his own life. Brieon Green literally had a phone cord, strangling himself with the phone cord, while a sheriff’s officer goes directly past the cell while he was supposed to be conducting a cell check.”

Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to call for transparency in the death of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse after the death of Brieon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

LaMarr said that the video, once released, will show Green’s body “completely dips down and shifts immediately after the deputy walks by, after he was strangling himself with the phone cord.” Even the family’s attorneys don’t have the entirety of the file on Green’s case. However, they have been able to review several statements made by correctional staff, as well as the surveillance video. LaMarr told Wisconsin Examiner that he expects the file and video will be released within the next couple of weeks.

Green’s aunt, Monique Brewer, said, “This is the day that we’ve been waiting for.”

“We just wanted to know what happened,” Brewer added. “And in the midst of this happening, it could have been prevented. Someone was standing right outside the door … didn’t even look at him. He was locked in the room while eight other prisoners was sitting out in the common area, able to use the phone. And he was locked in the room, with an inoperable phone, by himself. We have to come together to change the rules, the laws, that affect us.”

Green’s death is just the latest  chapter in the jail’s troubled history of in-custody deaths. One of the more high-profile cases occurred in 2016 with the death of 38-year-old Terrill Thomas. After flooding his first cell, Thomas, who was mentally ill, was placed in solitary confinement. Correctional staff also shut off the water to Thomas’ cell, and kept it that way for a week. At the end of that week Thomas was found dead in his cell of profound dehydration. Lawsuits filed in the wake of Thomas’ death showed that since 2011, at least 40 women had been shackled in the jail while they gave birth. Since 2008, at least 17 people have died while in the sheriff’s custody.

Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to call for transparency in the death of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

The Thomas case ended in a $6.75 million settlement paid by the county to Thomas’ family. Former Sheriff David Clarke Jr. resigned as the controversy mounted. Two correctional officers and the jail’s former commander, Major Nancy Evans, received sentences ranging from 30 days to nine months in prison. Milwaukee recently elected a new sheriff, Denita Ball, earlier this year. Ball stated that the office would support innovative programs and technology, public safety, transparency and accountability under her leadership.

In Green’s case, the details are still being hashed out. On Thursday, the Milwaukee district attorney’s office stated that it is reviewing the matter and that more information will be made available once the office’s review is complete. LaMarr said criminal charges have not yet been mentioned during private talks with the district attorney.

A vigil held by the family of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
A vigil held by the family of Brieon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Local activists have their eyes trained closely on the case. The Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression issued a statement on Friday. “It is inhumane and unjust that a family had to wait nearly half a year in emotional limbo to see footage regarding the death of their loved one,” the Alliance said in a statement. “The suffering the family had to endure is entirely by the hands of [the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office].” The statement continues, “from the start of the year to August, the Milwaukee County Jail had seen four inmate deaths. It’s clear that this is a big issue which means that there needs to be big changes made to how the Milwaukee County Jail operates.”

The Alliance and the Justice for Brieon Green Coalition have three demands including firing and charging correctional officers who failed to intervene in Green’s death. The Alliance and Coalition are also demanding that all footage related to misconduct in the sheriff’s office be released within 48 hours of the incident, and the names of officers involved released within 24 hours. Lastly, the groups demand that Sheriff Ball meet with Green’s family to discuss policy changes to prevent more in-custody deaths.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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