July 12th, 2024

Four Missouri prison guards charged with murder, and fifth with manslaughter, in death of Black man

By Summer Ballentine, The Associated Press on June 28, 2024.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) – Four Missouri prison guards were charged Friday with murder, and a fifth with involuntary manslaughter, in the December death of a Black man who died after the officers pepper sprayed him and covered his face with a mask while in custody at a correctional facility, authorities said.

According to a complaint filed Friday, the guards at the Jefferson City Correctional Center on Dec. 8, 2023, pepper-sprayed Othel Moore Jr., 38, in the face, placed a mask over his face that inhibited his ability to breathe and left him in a position causing his asphyxiation.

An attorney for Moore’s family, Andrew Stroth, has said Moore had blood coming out of his ears and nose and that several inmates heard Moore screaming that he couldn’t breathe.

The complaint charges Justin Leggins, Jacob Case, Aaron Brown and Gregory Varner each with one count of second-degree murder and with one count of being an accessory to second-degree assault. A fifth guard, Bryanne Bradshaw, is charged with one count of accessory to involuntary manslaughter.

The charging document says Leggins and Case pepper-sprayed Moore in the face, and Brown placed a mask over his face, inhibiting Moore’s ability to breathe. The complaint says Varner and Bradshaw left Moore in a position that caused his asphyxiation.

The Missouri Department of Corrections released a statement Friday saying Moore died in a restraint system designed to prevent injury to himself and others, and that the department has discontinued using that system.

The corrections department also said after the criminal investigation and its own internal review, 10 people involved in the incident “are no longer employed by the department or its contractors.”

The department said it “will not tolerate behaviors or conditions that endanger the wellbeing of Missourians working or living in our facilities. The department has begun implementing body-worn cameras in restrictive-housing units at maximum-security facilities, starting with Jefferson City Correctional Center, to bolster both security and accountability.”

An Associated Press voice message requesting comment from the corrections officers union was not immediately returned Friday.

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