- A Mississippi grand jury declined to indict two sheriff’s deputies whose suspect, Damien Cameron, died in custody.
- “They said they didn’t have enough evidence — the evidence is in his face,” Cameron’s mother told Insider.
- Five people have died after interactions with the Rankin County Sheriff’s deputies in 2021.
A grand jury earlier this month declined to file charges against two Mississippi sheriff’s deputies who tased and beat a Black man in 2021 who later died after the encounter.
Jason Dare, who represents the Rankin County Sheriff’s department, told Insider that on October 14 a grand jury returned a “no bill” — meaning there’s insufficient evidence to indict — in the case of Damien Cameron, a 29-year-old Black man who died in police custody on July 26, 2021.
Insider spoke to Cameron’s mother, Monica Lee, who said she was stunned and bewildered by the decision.
Lee told Insider that “it hurt my heart” when she found out that the grand jury decided not to indict the officers.
“They said they didn’t have enough evidence — the evidence is in his face,” Lee said. “I didn’t get it.”
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Lee said she wants more information about what was presented to the grand jury, and that she feels like her son is a victim of the “good old boy system.”
“I don’t know if they have pictures of my son or what,” Lee said.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, which oversaw the investigation into Cameron’s death, wrote a report that differed from the sheriff’s department’s initial description of the incident in a press release.
The MBI report alleged that Cameron “collapsed” during a pursuit, while the sheriff’s department’s press release, did not mention Cameron collapsing or falling.
Incident report says a deputy punched Cameron at least three times
The Rankin County Sheriff’s department provided Insider with the incident report related to Cameron’s death.
According to the report, Sheriff’s Deputy Hunter Elward was dispatched to Cameron’s home on July 26, 2021 responding to a report of vandalism. When Elward arrived at the home, he went to speak with Cameron’s neighbor, who told him that he had arrived home to find a Black man in his house “busting holes in his wall with a pipe” who seemed extremely “out of it,” the report said.
The neighbor told Elward that when he approached Cameron and told him to leave the house, Cameron “ran outside and got in the car with his mother,” per the report.
His mother said Cameron had gone to his neighbor’s house on the morning of July 26 to ask him if he could do yard work in exchange for money, according to Lee.
Lee told Insider that her neighbor called her 30 minutes after she left his house with Cameron and told him that her home had been vandalized, and said she still doesn’t “even know whether my son did that or not.”
The Rankin County Sheriff’s department did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment regarding the alleged damage.
According to the report, Elward accompanied Lee into her home to search for Cameron, but couldn’t find him. Elward then made a call to an investigator on call who told him to document the alleged damage but the report does not include any photos.
The report said Elward saw Cameron emerge from the woods. Elward then chased Cameron, who had run around the back side of the house. Elward managed to get in front of Cameron and then pointed his Taser at Cameron as he went toward the house, the report said.
“I told him not to go into that house or I’m going to tase you,” the report said.
When Elward got within “arms reach” of Cameron, the report said Cameron swung at the deputy’s Taser. Cameron then turned to run into the house when Elward shot his Taser, hitting him in the back and causing him to call into the porch steps, the report said.
The report said Elward then got on top of Cameron and tried to place him in custody before Cameron escaped and ran back into the house. Once inside the living room, the report stated that the barbs of the Taser were still in Cameron’s back and Elward shot the Taser a second time with “little or no effect.”
Cameron then ran into a bedroom and tried to pull the Taser prongs out. Elward then grabbed him and wrestled him to the floor, the report said. Cameron “continued to try and punch” the deputy, according to the report. The deputy then “used a closed fist to get compliance” and struck Cameron “at or near the left eye twice.”
Elward then punched him in the face a third time and Cameron rolled onto his chest with his hand underneath him, the report said.
The report said that a second deputy, Luke Stickman, arrived and “with his assistance we were able to get him in handcuffs.”
According to Lee, Elward knelt on Cameron’s back for around “15 to 20 minutes” while he waited for Stickman to arrive and Cameron complained that he could not breathe. Lee said Stickman “fell” onto Cameron’s neck when he arrived and continued to kneel on his neck while he placed him in handcuffs.
The report said that Cameron continued to resist while Elward and Stickman walked him to a patrol car, but Lee told Insider that Cameron was still complaining of not being able to breathe as the deputies led him outside.
“We made it into my patrol unit and tried to get him into it but he would go back and forth from resisting and kicking to throwing himself on the ground and we tried 6 or 7 times to pick him up,” the report said.
The deputies took a break from trying to get Cameron into the car for “about a minute” before Elward picked him up “around his waist” and put him into the vehicle, according to the report.
Elward tried to close the door, but Cameron continued to stick his legs out of the car, so Elward used Stickman’s Taser to tase Cameron again in the back of his thigh, the report said. The deputies then went back into the house to retrieve Elward’s Taser.
The deputies then went back to the car to check on Cameron before going to collect evidence from the neighbor’s house but found him unresponsive, per the report.
The report said that Elward then pulled Cameron out of the car and began performing CPR.
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 report said that Stickman assisted Elward with CPR and called for medical assistance.
A second incident report from investigator A.J DiMartino said he arrived and found Stickman and Elward muddy and sitting on the bumper of a car.
Lee told Insider that Elward stood outside “crying, saying ‘why me?’ ‘why me?'” while paramedics performed CPR on Cameron.
Cameron was later pronounced dead at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The state medical examiner said his cause of death was inconclusive, according to Lee.
Five people died after interactions with Rankin sheriff’s deputies last year
Cameron’s death was the first of five people who died in Rankin County in 2021 after interactions with Rankin County Sheriff’s deputies during an eight-month period. Insider sued the sheriff’s department in July for records related to three of the deaths, including Cameron’s.
Insider also previously reported the deaths of Cory Jackson and Trevor McKinley.
Jackson died in May 2021 after a sheriff’s deputy arrested him while he was experiencing hallucinations and refused to take him to the hospital, his family told Insider. In August 2021, deputies shot McKinley, Cameron’s high-school classmate, inside his grandparents’ home.
In December 2021, while responding to a call of a drug overdose, deputies shot and killed Robert Rushton, who police said was armed with two knives. A fifth man, Adam Coker, died in the Rankin County Jail in September 2021.
At a Mississippi Sheriff’s Association conference this past June, WLBT reported that Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey attributed his department’s rise in officer-involved shootings over the 2 years to “the atmosphere of anti-police, the economy, COVID, and several different factors.”