ABI continues to look into two deaths of county jail inmates

Published 9:57pm Friday, July 11, 2014

A Dallas County grand jury decided not to indict a Selma Police Department officer last week, but the sheriff’s department is still waiting on two Alabama Bureau of Investigation reports concerning deaths in the county jail.

One of the Dallas County Jail deaths occurred in January and the other was in April.

Jerusalem Festes Grimes, 45 at the time, hanged himself on Jan. 16. Grimes was in jail after being arrested for driving while intoxicated and violating probation — stemming from a 2010 incident in Shelby County where he was charged with terrorist threats and criminal mischief.

Sandra Hudson, 39, died April 9 because of a medical condition, Sheriff Harris Huffman said. After the death, Huffman said Hudson was found lying on the floor, unresponsive after she refused to eat breakfast an hour earlier.

Within hours of the deaths, ABI had already started it’s investigation.

Huffman said his department lets ABI agents operate independently, unless help is requested.

“Anytime you have a death and it’s investigated, you want it investigated by another entity,” he said. “When we call in ABI to investigate, we don’t interfere with anything that they are doing. We also conduct our own, internal investigation to see what things we could have done differently.”

ABI isn’t the final stop for investigations. Once District Attorney Michael Jackson receives the report, he or an assistant district attorney present ABI’s findings to a grand jury. If sufficient evidence exists that the sheriff’s department could have taken actions to prevent the death, then the grand jury could indict the department.

Unlike in most cases, Jackson said the district attorney’s office doesn’t argue a particular side when presenting ABI reports.

“We just show whatever evidence is in the report,” Jackson said.

Considering facts of both deaths and the jail’s condition, Huffman said he doesn’t believe the department acted inappropriately during the incidents.

“If we find that there was a dereliction of duties, then there’s going to be some changes,” he said. “If no matter what we did the outcome would have been the same, then we’ll have to look at that as well. From what I know with both of these incidents, I don’t expect ABI will find anything that we don’t already know, but if they do, then we’ll just take it when it comes.

On Friday, Jackson said his office hadn’t received either ABI report. Even when he does, it could be several months before a grand jury takes action on the investigation.

“We might not have a grand jury for a couple of months,” Jackson said.

Because an assistant district attorney is taking maternity leave the next grand jury will likely be in October, he said.

Regardless of when the case is decided, Huffman said he understands the lengthy investigation process. He said investigators go through all information that is available on the death, including conducting interviews.

“You’ve got 67 sheriff’s departments, however many police departments there are across the state and only two labs,” Huffman said. “They are overwhelmed.”

The Alabama Bureau of Investigation and Alabama Department of Public Safety did not return requests for comment.


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