Mississippi Police Silent on Investigation Into Death of a Black Man

  • Damien Cameron, a Black man, died in Mississippi police custody in July 2021.
  • State police said their investigation into Cameron’s death is still ongoing, but his family told Insider they thought the investigation ended two months ago.
  • Cameron’s mother told Insider that she has “no trust” in police officers following her son’s death.

Police are remaining silent about the death of a Black man in Rankin County, Mississippi, who died in police custody six months ago, and his family told Insider that they want answers.

Damien Cameron, 29, died in Rankin County Sheriff’s Department custody on July 26, 2021. Cameron’s mother told Insider that deputies chased him inside their house, tased him twice, and knelt on his back for more than 15 minutes while he complained that he couldn’t breathe.

Police said at the time that they were called to Cameron’s home in Braxton, Mississippi, on a report of a burglary, according to local reports. But Cameron’s mother, Monica Lee, told Insider that he wasn’t involved in any burglary.

The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation investigates all deaths in police custody in the state. A spokesperson for the MBI told Insider on January 19 that its investigation into Cameron’s death was still an “open and ongoing case.” But according to Lee, the MBI told her it turned the case over to the Rankin County District Attorney’s office for review “over two months” ago.

The Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and the district attorney’s office did not respond to Insider’s repeated requests for comment about the status of the investigation. Cameron’s death came just two weeks after Mississippi Department of Public Safety commissioner Sean Tindell told the Sun Herald that the MBI would be more open with the public about its investigations.

Cameron’s family say police used excessive force

According to Lee, her son went to her neighbor’s house on the morning of July 26 to ask if the man had any work that he could do. The neighbor wasn’t home but the man’s young child invited him inside. When the neighbor returned home to find Cameron in his house, he called Lee to the home.

Lee told Insider that she talked to the man, thought the issue was resolved, and returned home with her son, but the man called her back about an hour later claiming that Cameron had vandalized his house, and that he called the police.

According to Lee, the man said he did not want to press charges against Cameron but wanted police to “talk to him and let him know he’s not supposed to be in my house.”

Lee said she went to her neighbor’s house to see the purported damage after he called police but never made it inside because a deputy arrived and asked her where her son was.

Lee said she told the deputy that she would go in her house to get him, but the officer was “right on my heels” as soon as she opened the door.

“He come through the whole house without a search warrant, anything,” Lee said. “He went to every bedroom and busted the door open on my dad.”

After unsuccessfully searching the house, the deputy went back to his car to make a phone call while Lee walked to her car where she found Cameron crouched beside the vehicle, she said.

“He said Mama, ‘I didn’t do nothing. I said, ‘well Toot, just come out,'” Lee said, using her son’s nickname.

Lee initially told the deputy searching for Cameron that he would likely run if the deputy found him because “he’s paranoid” and had been tased by officers before. Court records show that Cameron had been charged with failure to obey an officer and assault on a policeman in June 2020, but he was never convicted.

A struggle ensued between Cameron and officers

When Cameron walked around the car, the deputy saw him, and Cameron took off running toward the house, Lee said, but the deputy caught up to him. After speaking briefly with the deputy, Cameron ran toward the house again and reached for the back door.

“That was the first time he tased him,” Lee said.

Lee said that Cameron fell on his side, with his body lying on the steps that led into the house, but he pulled the Taser’s prongs out and ran inside the home. Cameron then ran into the living room where the deputy tased him a second time, and he again pulled out the prongs before running into a bedroom, Lee said.

Inside the bedroom, the deputy began to struggle with Cameron, tackled him, and placed his left hand in handcuffs, according to Lee.

“At that time, I seen my son’s left side of his face begin to swell and his left eye begin to pop out his head because there’s so much pressure he had in his back,” Lee said.

According to Lee, the deputy who tackled Cameron knelt on his back for “a good 15 to 20 minutes” while he waited for a second deputy.

When the second deputy arrived, he ran into the room and “fell” with his knee onto Cameron’s neck and knelt on his neck while placing him in handcuffs, according to Lee.

“My son began saying he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe,” Lee said.

Lee said that Cameron continued to complain that he couldn’t breathe when police led him out of the house in handcuffs, and he fell to the ground next to a police car.

After waiting inside the house for a few minutes, Lee said her mother turned to her and said that Cameron was going to be “either dead or half-dead by the time they get him to wherever he’s going.” So, she said she decided to go outside to tell her son, “goodbye and I love him.”

“I go to the side of the truck to see them doing CPR on my son,” Lee said.

According to Lee, a deputy asked her if Cameron had any medical issues, and when she said that he did not, the deputy responded, “fuck!”

“The first officer that was there, he was standing outside crying, saying ‘why me?’ ‘why me?'” Lee said.

Lee said she asked the deputy if she could give Cameron water, and he said no.

According to Lee, the deputies who arrested Cameron were not wearing body cameras. The RCSD has not released the names of the deputies involved or said if they were suspended after the incident, but Lee said her family has seen some of them working since the encounter.

Police waited an hour to call an ambulance, family says

According to Lee, deputies “worked on” Cameron on the ground for a full hour before calling an ambulance. They were successful in getting his pulse restarted, but his “lips had turned purple” by the time they finished CPR, she said.

Lee said police took Cameron to Simpson General Hospital in Simpson County before transferring him to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he later died.

According to Lee, the doctors at Simpson General told her that police gave them “50 different stories and none of them add up to the injuries that my son had.” Lee said that the doctors at UMMC told her that Cameron went into cardiac arrest four times, and his cause of death was cardiac arrest and blunt force trauma to the head.

Warning: Graphic content

Damien Cameron in the hospital after his arrest on July 26, 2021.

 

Damien Cameron in the hospital after his arrest on July 26, 2021.

Monica Lee

Simpson General did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment and UMMC declined to comment. The Rankin County Coroner told Insider that Cameron’s autopsy report had been sent to the state medical examiner who did not immediately return Insider’s comment request.

Lee said she and her parents, who were all present at the time of Cameron’s arrest, were interviewed once by MBI investigators shortly after Cameron’s death. The sheriff’s department never reached out to her.

Cameron’s family demands answers

Lee said she went to a Rankin County Board of Supervisors meeting on November 15, 2021 to pressure Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey for answers, which was the only way she got a response from anyone in the department. Lee, Damien’s stepfather, and his grandmother all asked the sheriff why over three months had passed and without update and why the officers involved in Damien’s death were allowed to continue working.

“He said his condolences go out to the family, but he still feels that his officers did nothing wrong,” Lee said.

Video of the meeting shows Bailey read from a written statement that the sheriff’s office “passes it’s sincerest condolences to the family of Mr. Cameron.” Bailey said that the sheriff’s department had turned over the investigation to the MBI and not received a final autopsy report from the Mississippi crime lab.

“We strongly believe that this investigation will return confirming that our deputies performed their jobs lawfully and in accordance with our department policies,” Bailey said at the meeting.

Bailey did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Lee said she “just wants justice” for her son, and she hopes that the deputies involved in his death will be held accountable somehow.

“Now, at this point, I don’t have no trust in no police officers, none,” Lee said.

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