[ Shelby Co. Jail ]
[ The Cochran Firm ]
[ U.S. Dept. of Justice ]
[ Fulton Co. Sup. Court ]
[ The Bar & DeKalb Police ]
[ Media Blackout ]
[ Unacceptable Solutions ]
[ Looking Back ]
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The Wrongful Death of Larry Neal
The Secret Death of a Mentally Ill Heart Patient in a
Tennessee Jail and the Subsequent Cover-Up

US Department of Justice

Shelby County Jail had such a grievous record of violations of inmates’ civil rights that in 2000, the jail was sued by the United States of America. At the time of Larry’s death, the jail was operating under the terms of a settlement agreement related to that suit. Section IV of the Agreement between the United States of America and Shelby County Jail specifically required that the jail make a semi-annual report to the Justice Department. The semi-annual report was to include the individual monthly reports, which the jail was required to keep regarding its operations, as well as mortality review reports on any deaths of inmates during the reporting period. [See Ex. 10 – Agreement - USA/Shelby Co., Section IV.] In May 2005, I wrote a letter to the Justice Department, which was addressed to Terrell L. Harris, Mellie Nelson, Mary Bohan, and Tammie Gregg, and requested Shelby County’s report on Larry’s death. The Justice Department reported that that agency never received any report regarding Larry Neal from Shelby County Jail/ Government. [See Ex. 11 – Lt to USDJ and Response 1.] [See Ex. 12 – USDJ Report 7-26-2005.]

Larry’s family believed strongly that the reason The Cochran Firm accepted Larry’s wrongful death case was partly to protect Shelby County Jail from reporting its breach of that jail’s Agreement with the U.S.A. regarding inmate intake procedures and the care of the mentally ill and physically handicapped persons under arrest in that facility. [See Ex. 10 – Agreement – USA/Shelby Co., Section III]

Larry’s family realized that any reports from the jail to the Justice Department that included July and August 2003 and failed to report Larry’s incarceration and death were misleading at best, and likely fraudulent. Larry’s family wanted to verify that the Shelby County Jail had in fact lied by omission in its failure to report to the Justice Department information about Larry’s incarceration and death. Therefore, on March 29, 2006, I sent a request under the Open Records Act to Chief John L. Wodatch, of the United States Justice Department, for copies of the jail’s reports that included July and August 2003. For 16 months, we received no response from The Justice Department regarding our request for reports from Shelby County Government/Jail for the time period when Larry was incarcerated and died in that facility. [See Ex. 13 – Lt to USDJ – 3-29-06.]

May 2007, I wrote United States senators asking for their help in ascertaining records and justice for Larry, and requesting that our government rethink its current trend of jailing rather than hospitalizing severely mentally ill Americans. Thanks to intervention by Senator Chambliss, on August 15, 2007, the Justice Department finally responded to our March 2006 letter. However, the Justice Department’s response did not include a single copy of any record filed by Shelby County Jail for the time period of Larry’s secret incarceration and death. Instead, Nelson D. Hermilla, of the Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts Branch of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, wrote, “After extensive search in the Civil Rights Division, we are unable to locate records responsive to your request . . .” [See Ex. 14 – USDJ Report 8-15-07.] The Justice Department did not explain why Shelby County Jail was apparently allowed to ignore its reporting responsibilities under the terms of its Agreement with the United States of America. Mr. Hermilla’s letter conflicted with information from the Shelby County Attorney, Brian L. Kuhn. Mr. Kuhn plainly stated in his August 17, 2006 letter to me that the jail’s semi-annual report, including a critical incident review report about Larry’s death, had been filed with the United States Department of Justice in accordance with the terms of the jail’s Agreement with the United States of America.

It is my understanding that in 2006, the Justice Department released Shelby County Jail from overview under the terms of the 2001 Agreement between the United States of America and Shelby County Jail. The Justice Department refuses to conduct an investigation regarding Larry Neal’s death, which occurred at that facility during the time of federal overview. Perhaps the Justice Department seeks to avoid shedding more light on an embarrassing problem – our nation’s lack of care for its mentally ill citizens. In October 2003, the year Larry died, Human Rights Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world, issued a report indicating that America has more mentally ill persons in jail than in hospitals and that mentally ill offenders face mistreatment and neglect while incarcerated. (

Please contact your congressional representative today and demand that hospitalization replace incarceration for the mentally ill people in your state.

[...Fulton County, GA]