Rev. Lonnie D. Wesley III has plenty of questions but few answers. He wants to know why his brother died in the Escambia County Jail.
Wesley is still grieving his loss, but he also has another serious concern: His brother, Alfred Earl Wesley, 63, who died on Jan. 15, 2016, was the seventh inmate to die in the Pensacola, Florida jail since November 2014.
Six of the inmates, including Alfred Wesley, were black.
It’s a disturbing pattern for Rev. Wesley, who said he plans to keep the pressure on county officials to investigate the deaths.
“We cannot be numb to people dying in our jails,” Wesley, pastor of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “This cannot be normal. This cannot be OK.”
Wesley said county officials initially ruled his brother’s death as natural causes, but since the full autopsy hasn’t been completed yet, Wesley is still waiting for all the facts in the case to emerge.
What Wesley does know is this: His brother was found unresponsive on Jan. 15, 2016 after he was arrested in December for trespassing.
Wesley said his brother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, a result of his tour in the Army dating back to the 1970s. His brother was prescribed medication for his condition, Wesley said, but when he didn’t take it, he experienced mental episodes.
Rev. Wesley’s crusade to find the truth extends beyond his brother’s questionable death.
“I want to do what I can to make sure Alfred is the last man to die unnecessarily in this jail,” Wesley said.
The U.S. Bureau of Justice released a study in 2015 that found 80 percent of America’s county jails report no deaths in any given year. Only about 6 percent of county jails in America have two or more deaths in a year, according to the study, but the Escambia County Jail reported seven deaths in the past two years, a death almost every two months.
There are about 800 inmates in the Escambia County Jail, which has one medical doctor, a dentist and a mental health physician. So far, reports show three of the deaths were reported as suicides, and two others were related to medical issues.
The family of one of the dead inmates said they were stonewalled by jail officials and denied access to information.
Assistant County Administrator Chip Simmons told The Pensacola News Journal that he plans to be accessible to the family.
“If they have a concern about an inmate … I’m going to make myself available to the citizens, to the family, and to the friends,” Simmons told the newspaper. “So if they have a concern they don’t feel is being addressed by the county jail, they can come down to my office, we’ll discuss it and we’ll do the best that we can.”
But many in Pensacola are skeptical.
The Pensacola News Journal reported Escambia County commissioners voted last year to create a new medical director position at the jail and they also added an independent monitoring system to review the health care operations for inmates at the jail.
Wesley, however, said too many inmates have already died in the jail. He said he was reminded of a remark from a family friend: Silence is consent.
So Wesley intends to remain vocal.
“We have to call attention to what’s happening here in Pensacola, Florida,” Wesley said. “We’ve had 7 people to be found dead in this jail and that’s a problem.”
The deaths of inmates at the Escambia County Jail should be thoroughly investigated. Rev. Wesley — and all the families involved — deserve honest accounts of how their loved ones died.
And they shouldn’t have to twist arms to get it.
What do you think?