MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The family of a man stabbed to death while awaiting a court appearance at 201 Poplar filed a lawsuit against Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, the county government, and the chief jailer of the Shelby County Jail Thursday, saying they all played a role in their son’s death.
25-year-old Deion Byrd was stabbed about 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2023, while in a holding cell behind a courtroom at the Criminal Justice Center at 201 Poplar. He was taken in critical condition to Regional One Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Donnie Clay, 21, has been charged with first degree murder and possessing contraband in a penal institution in Byrd’s death.
During the news conference Nov. 3, Crump blamed “gross negligence” at 201 Poplar.
“I don’t know how the sheriff’s department tries to justify this. How an inmate got a sharp metal object through their security screenings and checks. I mean my God,” said Crump.
The lawsuit filed Thursday said Bonner, Shelby County Chief Jailer Kirk Fields, and the Shelby County government, alongside various officials responsible for policy making at the jail, enacted policies at 201 Poplar with “deliberate indifference” to the safety of the inmates there.
The lawsuit said the jail’s death rate of inmates has more than tripled since Bonner took over the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office in 2018; from 1.67 deaths per thousand inmates in 2019 to 5.8 deaths per thousand inmates in 2022. The lawsuit also specifically names Chief Jailer Kirk Fields, who was appointed as the person in charge of day to day operations at 201 Poplar in 2018.
The lawsuit also said Bonner acknowledged “failures” at the sheriff’s office that led to Byrd’s death; namely claiming he directed an investigation and review of processes and training to prevent future incidents.
It also claimed the Shelby County government was complicit in the operations of 201 Poplar leading to a high number of inmate deaths, saying Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris’ office has “declined to intervene” to the alleged mismanagement of the jail.