Riverbend inmate’s death triggers prosecutors’ investigation

Nashville prosecutors are investigating the death of an inmate at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution after the medical examiner classified it a homicide.

Inmate Charles Jason Frank Toll died Aug. 17.

The medical examiner’s office watched a video of the incident and noted that prison guards pinned him to the ground for 10 minutes with a riot shield while taking him out of his cell, according to an autopsy report. The Tennessee Department of Correction has cleared its guards of wrongdoing.

“We (TDOC Internal Affairs) have completed our investigation and determined there were no violations of policy,” said Dorinda Carter, correction spokeswoman. “We have turned our report over to the District Attorney’s Office for review by his investigative team.”

She declined to discuss the case in detail or address the homicide conclusion. The District Attorney General’s Office said it was still reviewing the matter and had not decided on a course of action.

An attorney for Toll’s family said other inmates have complained about their treatment at Riverbend. No lawsuits have been filed in Toll’s death.

“While inmates many times injure each other, and are sometimes injured by guards, I have never seen a death like this is in a prison setting,” said Nashville attorney David Raybin.

Toll was serving a 30-year sentence on multiple charges including aggravated burglary, escape and theft, Carter said.

On Aug. 17, prison guards were trying to get Toll out of his cell. Dr. John Davis, the doctor who performed the autopsy, wrote in his report that Toll was handcuffed behind his back and put face down on the floor. Then, he noted, guards held him down.

For about five minutes, Davis wrote, Toll was unresponsive and had distressed breathing. When guards rolled him on his back, he didn’t have a pulse.

He declared that Toll died from asphyxia with suffocation and ruled it a homicide.

Martin F. Horn, former head of New York City’s and Pennsylvania’s corrections departments and a lecturer at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the homicide ruling doesn’t necessarily mean “murder.” He said that the ruling simply meant Toll’s death was caused by another person.

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