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4 Missouri prison guards charged with murder, and a 5th with manslaughter, in death of Black man

COLUMBIA, Monday — Four Missouri prison guards were charged Friday with murder and a fifth with complicity in involuntary manslaughter. December death of a black man who was pepper-sprayed, had his face covered with a mask and was left in a position that caused him to suffocate while in custody at a correctional facility, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday.

A group of guards part of the Department of Corrections Emergency Response Team was searching one of the housing units for contraband on December 8, 2023, when Othel Moore Jr., 38, was pepper sprayed twice and then placed in a spit hood was stopped. wrap and restraint chair, according to a news release from Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson.

Moore was then transferred to a separate housing unit, where he was left in the hood, shawl and chair for 30 minutes. Thompson said several people heard him say he couldn’t breathe. Moore was eventually taken to a hospital wing and pronounced dead.

Thompson said the medical examiner ruled that Moore’s cause of death was due to positional asphyxia, and his death was listed as a homicide. He confirmed that the events were captured on the prison’s video surveillance system.

“After sitting down and reviewing all the evidence, the dozens and dozens of interviews, all the reports, we determined that the charges were warranted,” Thompson told The Associated Press.

An attorney for Moore’s family, Andrew Stroth, said he had blood coming from his ears and nose.

“There is a system, pattern and practice of racist and unconstitutional abuse within the Missouri Department of Corrections, and particularly within the Jefferson City Corrections Center,” Stroth said, adding: “It is George Floyd 3.0 in a prison.”

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

Leggins and Case pepper-sprayed Moore and Brown placed a mask over his face, the charging document said. Varner and Bradshaw left Moore in a position that caused him to suffocate, the complaint said.

Those charged with murder could face a prison sentence of 10 to 30 years, Thompson said.

Attorneys for Moore’s mother and sister filed a lawsuit Friday against the officers and the Department of Corrections.

The Moore family’s attorneys described the Corrections Emergency Response Team in a copy of the lawsuit provided to the AP as “a group that uses coercive measures to abuse, intimidate and threaten inmates.”

“This attack on Othel Moore, Jr. was not an isolated incident, but rather the manifestation of a barbaric pattern and practice promoted by the highest ranking members of the Missouri Department of Corrections,” attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

The Missouri Department of Corrections released a statement Friday saying Moore died in a restriction system is intended to prevent injury to himself and others, and that the department no longer uses that system.

The corrections department also said that following 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 behavior or conditions that jeopardize the well-being of Missourians who work or live in our facilities. The department has begun implementing body cameras in restrictive housing units in maximum-security facilities, starting with Jefferson City Correctional Center, to enhance both safety and accountability.”

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Oriel Moore, Othel Moore’s sister, said her family never had the chance to see Othel Moore outside of prison after his childhood, which added to their heartbreak.

“He’s not going to be able to live his life, he doesn’t even know what it is to be a grown man because he’s been in that since he was a kid,” Moore said. “He had plans. He wanted to be a productive member of society. He matters. His life matters.”

Moore, who grew up in St. Louis, was serving a 30-year prison sentence on a series of charges.

Thompson said he had heard that only one of the five defendants, Jacob Case, had hired an attorney, but he could not identify that attorney. A voice message seeking comment from the corrections officers union was not immediately returned Friday.

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