The mother of an inmate whose death was ruled a homicide is suing the warden and some guards of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.
Jane Luna, mother of Charles Jason Frank Toll, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Nashville Wednesday morning against Riverbend Warden Ricky Bell and nine other prison employees.
Luna claims correctional officers violated her son’s civil rights last August after handcuffing him, pulling him from his jail cell and holding him facedown on the ground by sitting on a shield pressed against his back for more than 10 minutes.
Toll, 33 at the time, was later transported to Metro General Hospital where he was declared dead. The Davidson County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Toll’s death a homicide by “mechanical asphyxia and suffocation” due to “asphyxia during physical restraint.”
Luna is seeking a jury trial and punitive damages as well as compensation for Toll’s death including any suffering he may have endured.
Luna’s complaint states that correctional officers at Riverbend developed a pattern of “intentional, reckless deliberate, indifferent and wanton disregard” to inmates’ rights, and that Bell failed to properly train and supervise the prison guards.
The DOC also attempted to conceal Toll’s cause of death, according to the suit, by stating to Luna as well as to the media that Toll died of “natural causes.”
Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said the department had concluded its own investigation of Toll’s death and concluded correctional officers followed the department policy in the incident.
“I wonder what kind of policy they have that would allow such a thing to happen,” said attorney David Raybin, who is representing Luna.
Raybin called the DOC policy regarding such jail cell extractions “flawed,” adding, “There is no policy that I know of that would have resulted in this man dying like that.”
Luna’s suit claims one of the guards taunted Toll through a small opening in the solitary confinement cell Toll was in on Aug. 17. After Toll “tossed liquid” at the guard through the opening, the suit states, the guard planned to retaliate with other guards, claiming he’d been “splashed with urine.”
According to the complaint, a “cell extraction team” armed with Taser guns and a Taser shield shackled Toll and dragged him out of his cell and, later, into the prison yard. In the process, guards allegedly shocked Toll with Tasers and held him down with a shield.
Carter said the DOC handed over the results of its investigation to the Davidson County District Attorney General’s Office in January.
Susan Niland, spokeswoman for the DA’s office, said prosecutors are reviewing information they have received so far from both the DOC and the medical examiner’s office, but more information is expected.
Toll was serving a 30-year sentence on aggravated burglary, escape and theft charges resulting from a 2007 conviction in Sumner County, Carter said. He also had prior convictions for aggravated burglary dating back to 1995.