The Associated Press
May 27, 2005
The beating death of a 19-year-old man in jail for a misdemeanor has prompted a Madison County commissioner to question why he was sharing a cell with inmates charged with capital murder and sodomy, though other commissioners seemed less concerned.
"We want to find out specifically what's going on and why that took place," commissioner Bob Harrison said Friday. "We don't want to micromanage the sheriff's office, but certainly as the governing body of county we have a responsibility to know where and how that decision was made."
Ronald Pinchon died of chest injuries Saturday, apparently from a fight with six cellmates, who were charged with murder in his death, authorities said.
"Here you have a 19-year-old boy serving on a misdemeanor with people charged with some of the most severe offenses," said Mark McDaniel, attorney for Pinchon's family, on Friday. "Those are some of the questions we're going to ask in our investigation."
McDaniel said Pinchon was in jail on an unauthorized use of vehicle charge, but wouldn't elaborate further about his arrest.
However, Commissioner Mo Brooks saw no need for an investigation of the jail by the county.
"It's unfortunate that there was a loss of life but people who commit crime or are arrested for committing crimes can only expect to be housed with other criminals," he said.
Editorial addressing the above article
The wrong message
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Ignoring the slaying of Ronald Pinchon would be irresponsible
Problem No. 1 with Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks' dismissive attitude toward the death of 19-year-old Ronald Pinchon: Slayings are not merely mean.
Said Brooks to Huntsville Times reporter Challen Stephens about the brutal beating of Pinchon last Saturday in the Madison County jail: "Sometimes people are just mean to each other whether they are in jail or out of jail." True? Sure, but put Brooks' comment in this context: A young man's life was snuffed out, allegedly by one or more of his six cell mates. This goes far beyond meanness.
The unspoken message, perhaps, is that Pinchon got what he deserved. Run with the big dogs, son, and you're likely to get bit.
But was Pinchon really running with the big dogs? Was he really no different than the men who shared his cell?
Pinchon had been sentenced to a year in jail for unauthorized use of a vehicle. He had also violated his probation by not meeting with his probation officer. That's it.
Three of his cell mates, on the other hand, were facing capital murder charges. Another had been convicted of selling cocaine and intimidating a witness. Another has been charged with multiple counts of sodomy and assault.
Pinchon - whoever he was, whatever he had done - had not yet descended to their level of criminality. And for all we know, he may not have ever done so.
Back to Brooks, who also seems to feel that the County Commission doesn't need to be involved beyond the investigation the Sheriff's Department and Madison County district attorney will conduct. Madison County has a vested interest in operating a jail that is safe. A safe jail means little or no liability for the county. It means that the corrections officers who work there won't have to face unnecessary risks.
A safe jail is one less headache for the county. So why would any commissioner have a problem with a full investigation of the jail and the way it is operated?
Commissioner Bob Harrison said that he believes one is warranted. He seems to understand that it is imperative for the county to ensure that no other inmates in its care are killed.
Jails and prisons should not treat inmates as disposable people. Regardless of the charges facing them or the convictions on their record, each inmate's life has an inherent value - at least to God and their families, if to no one else.
Commissioner Brooks wants to be Alabama's next lieutenant governor. However, our state doesn't need leaders who are comfortable accepting the status quo. Alabama's leaders must be willing to confront our state's problems and be accountable for solving them.
If Brooks is really committed to serving in statewide office, he needs to revisit his position on Pinchon's death. Simply brushing it aside would be an irresponsible act reeking of a callous lack of accountability, something that neither the County Commission nor a viable candidate for statewide office can afford to do.
By David Person, for the editorial board
Madison County Sheriff's Department
View photos of the deceased and the accused
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