Inmates fail to prove deliberate attack, judge finds

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Former Lee County Jail officer Joseph Royce did not deliberately cause a 2008 fight in which inmates claimed they were injured, a federal judge ruled Monday.
In dismissing an eight-member jury, Chief District Judge Michael P. Mills said state inmates William Turner and Jeff Tucker failed to prove that Royce intended harm when he allowed different groups of inmates to mix, setting off a fight.
Turner and Tucker represented themselves during the trial in Oxford.
Dressed in black and white prison garb, they were no match for Royce’s defense counsel, Tupelo attorneys William Murphree and Gary Carnathan, who in recent years have represented Lee County, Sheriff Jim Johnson and the jail in dozens of lawsuits alleging abuse at the facility.
Usually, the people who file the lawsuits have attorneys, too, and many of their cases have been settled for relatively small amounts of money.
Tucker, who described himself as a formerly successful plumber, did most of the talking for the pair of plaintiffs.
Tucker’s obvious lack of courtroom experience and education showed against the trained and polished Murphree.
“I’m just a Walmart lawyer,” he told Mills and the jury as proceedings wound down about 2 p.m.
Throughout it all, Mills showed courtesy to the inmate plaintiffs and their witnesses. Among them were two fellow inmates, who gave their accounts of the jail attack, and two friends of Tucker, who suggested that he suffered injuries after the sudden beating on Oct. 2, 2008.
After Tucker and Turner rested their case, Tucker realized he should have called himself to the stand to give his story.
Over Murphree’s call to end the trial, Mills told the jury that Tucker “made a mistake,” and the judge allowed him to present his own version of what happened.
In the end, Mills told the jury the two men had not proved that Royce was “deliberately indifferent” to their welfare in the Lee County Jail.
“He has admitted he made a mistake,” Mills said, referring to Royce. “That’s a big difference.”
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com.