Attorney suggests jail death may have been race-related

 Dale O’Neal’s mother, Ollie Blair, talks during Thursday’s press conference while relatives and friends listen.
By: 
STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer

A lawyer for the family of a man apparently killed in the Clay County Jail Friday suggests race may have been a motive and wants to know why a man known to have mental health and drug issues was in the cell.

During a press conference outside the Clay County Courthouse Thursday, Carlos Moore said he had begun an investigation on behalf of the family of 54-year-old Dale O’Neal, who was found strangled in his cell at about 7:50 a.m. Friday, March 15.

His cellmate, 20-year-old Cameron Henderson, has been charged with murder for allegedly strangling O’Neal to death with a two-foot-long cord from the phone in the cell.

Henderson is being held without bond and on suicide watch isolation.

“Our belief is policies and procedures were not followed and that led to his death,” Moore said with about two dozen of O’Neal’s relatives and friends listening.

“How can a violent struggle not be heard…a lot of noise … why didn’t the jailers hear it or get to him? Common sense tells you you should have heard the commotion,” Moore said.

Moore suggested Henderson — who is white while O’Neal was black — may be a racist, showing a profile picture from his Facebook page that includes a derivation of the “N” word.

“Why would you put a racist in the same cell with a black man – in Mississippi? On social media, his profile picture uses the n-word. It (the picture) looks satanic. I wouldn’t want to be in the cell with him,” Moore implored.

“I’m around a bunch of wicked s___ so I stay ten toes down on these n_____ with my third eye open,” says the phrase on Henderson’s Facebook page to which Moore referred.
“This is some scary stuff,” Moore said, referring to the profile.

Some of the terms are a combination of lyrics from rap songs.

A review of other images and sayings on Henderson’s Facebook page by the Daily Times Leader didn’t reveal any other race-related terms. One is a line from the rap song “Praying to the Sky” by Lil Peep, who died of an accidental drug overdose in November 2017 that doctors said may have been related to his mental health issues.

“Why was this father and grandfather placed in a cell with a drug addict … with a person who had mental health issues?” Moore asked at one point. “We intend to find out what Clay County did and did not do.

“Did they have a death sentence on this man?” Moore asked.

“We are going to get justice from the county,” Moore stated, promising to file a federal civil rights lawsuit within 90 to 120 days if the county doesn’t cooperate or if the results of his investigation warrant it.

Sheriff Eddie Scott declined to comment on Moore’s claims, citing the ongoing investigation into the death and the possibility of litigation.

“All the information we have has been turned over to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation who will turn it over to the District Attorney when the investigation is complete,” Scott said, deferring any other comment to county attorney Angela Turner Ford.

“We are cooperating with the investigation and will continue to do so in every way. Other than that, I can’t comment,” Ford said Thursday evening.

The department called in the MBI immediately and the agency was in Clay County by 9 a.m. Friday.

Moore filed a freedom of information request on the department Thursday afternoon asking for, among other things, the names and information on all the staff on duty at the time, the names of other inmates in the area who “certainly must have been witnesses,” all video from the jail, records of inmate check ups by jailers, policies and procedures related to how those are handled and how inmates are assigned to cells, and calls to 911.

“We’ll have our jail expert tell us whether they followed procedure,” Moore summed up. “This stinks to high heavens and we intend to find out what is rotten.”

O’Neal’s 78-year-old mother, Ollie Blair, said the city and the county told her they couldn’t help with paying for a funeral.

“I just wanted them to give him a decent burial,” Blair told the crowd. “They told me they can’t help me.”

“That’s unacceptable and unexplainable,” Moore claimed.

O’Neal’s funeral is 11 a.m. Saturday, March 30 at Carter Funeral Home in Columbus. He is survived by five children and several siblings.

O’Neal, who had been in jail since March 8 for trespassing and failing to appear in court on older charges, was due to be released Friday because he’d completed serving his time on both city and county charges.

Moore asked why O’Neal had not been released on a bond. He later acknowledged O’Neal didn’t have a bond because he had worked off his sentence for misdemeanor offenses in the county and the city, being given credit for $100 a day, because he’d previously not paid fines.

Jailers can monitor hallways via surveillance cameras but can’t see inside cells.

Neither man has a history of violence in the jail or their criminal records, according to Scott and a search of Clay County court records.

Henderson, who has a history of drug and alcohol issues as well as mental health concerns, was the only other inmate in the cell. Some of O’Neal’s prior arrests also were drug related, according to court records.

Henderson was booked at 2:30 p.m. March 13 by West Point Police on misdemeanor charges of shoplifting and disturbing the peace.

Jailers had been in contact with both inmates throughout the night and breakfast trays had been delivered earlier that morning with no indication of trouble.

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