Jackson says jail death not suicide

Civil rights leader calls for federal investigation, citing signs of beating
Associated Press,, Sept. 18, 2007

FOUNTAIN INN, S.C. --The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Monday questioned a police account of the death of a 25-year-old black man who was found hanging by a T-shirt in a jail cell, alleging the man was beaten and did not take his own life.

After touring the police station where Richard Javis Johnson died in July, Jackson said he wants a full investigation by federal officials.

"You see more and more of these tortures and beatings and almost nothing from the Department of Justice," Jackson said. "The lights in the Department of Justice has gone off."

Johnson was found hanging by a T-shirt in a holding cell less than an hour after he was arrested on a drug charge, Fountain Inn Police Chief Keith Morton said. A cause of death has not been determined and pathology and toxicology tests were pending Monday, Morton said.

Morton said the police have nothing to hide.

"Just like Mr. Jackson, I was not there when this happened," Morton said. "I think that it's very unwise to attempt to make a determination on a cause of death based on post-autopsy photos."

Morton said the State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the incident.

Jackson said he viewed photos of the body taken after the autopsy that show bruising "inconsistent with suicide."

"You saw Taser burns on his body. You saw other marks on his body. You can see where he apparently was beaten," Jackson said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday.

The photos were provided by Johnson's mother. Jackson said he did not have the photos examined by a medical examiner or other professional.

Johnson's mother told The Greenville (S.C.) News there was "no way" her son took his own life.

"He had problems. We've all got problems, but he wasn't going to go out like that," Hattie Anita Johnson said.

A phone number for Hattie Anita Johnson could not be found.

Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition are touring South Carolina to encourage residents to register and vote in next year's presidential primaries. Jackson won South Carolina's primary in 1984 and 1988.

The 12-stop tour started Saturday in Spartanburg and will end Wednesday in Aiken.

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