Who was William Jennette? Tennessee cops tell detainee 'you shouldn't be able to breathe' minutes before death

The disturbing video footage is raising questions about the Jennette death last year inside the Marshall County Jail in Lewisburg, Tennessee


                            Who was William Jennette? Tennessee cops tell detainee 'you shouldn't be able to breathe' minutes before death
Deputies allegedly forced their knee of Willaim Jennette's back, eventually suffocating him, says the complaint filed by his daughter (Marshall County Jail/WTVF)

LEWISBURG, TENNESSEE: A father repeatedly told police officers that he could not breathe. But deputies did not budge and continued to apply force on his back by kneeling on it and taunting him. William Jennette, the man in question, ended up dying in custody in May 2020. His daughter is now suing the city of Lewisburg for his death and has filed a federal lawsuit. 

According to exclusive video footage obtained by NewsChannel 5 Nashville, it is proof of the extent of the force that was applied on Jennette, which resulted in his death. The disturbing video footage is raising questions about the Jennette death last year inside the Marshall County Jail in Lewisburg, Tennessee.

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Who was William Jennette?

Jennette, 48, a Tennessee man and a father of five children, allegedly died as a result of "savage beating, suffocation" while in custody at the Marshall County Jail, according to the complaint. His daughter Dominique Jennette is reportedly seeking unspecified punitive damages. 

Footage shows the scuffle with William Jennette (MARSHALL COUNTY JAIL/WTVF)

On May 4, 2020, William Jennette was arrested for "non-violent offenses by members of the Marshall County Sherrif's Office" and the complaint says he was being held awaiting trial. Things, however, took a turn for the worse very quickly. 

A scuffle begins 

According to the surveillance video from the Marshall County Jail, which was obtained by WTVF, Jennette is seen struggling with jail deputies who can be seen punching him and pepper-spraying him with a substance after he has exited the cell. The struggle lasted at least two minutes and 40 seconds, according to the video. Three sheriff's deputies can be seen continuing their struggle with Jennette and are unable to gain control of him.

The surveillance video then shows the entry of a responding officer from the Lewisburg Police Department after which authorities manage to bring Jennette to the ground. Bodycam video from the Lewisburg Police Officer and the surveillance video show authorities continue to struggle with Jennette before they are eventually able to handcuff him. The autopsy report says, "He was placed in handcuffs and leg shackles in a prone position."

The situation worsened very quickly (MARSHALL COUNTY JAIL/WTVF)

'You shouldn't be able to breathe'

Jennette can be heard screaming, "Help me. They are going to kill me," in the bodycam video, which included audio. In the bodycam video footage, deputies request leg restraints. He can then be heard saying, "I can't breathe". At one point, a female officer can be heard responding, “You shouldn’t be able to breathe, you stupid bastard.”

While the struggle continues, a law enforcement officer can be heard in the body cam video saying, "Easy. Easy. Remember asphyxiation guys." According to the bodycam video, another law enforcement officer, who can be seen kneeling on a portion of Jennette's back, can be heard saying, "That's why I'm not on his lungs."

The complaint, as per the latest reports, names four deputies from the Marshall County Sheriff's Office, three police officers from the Lewisburg Police Department, Marshall County and the City of Lewisburg as defendants.

The footage obtained shows him with a bloody face (MARSHALL COUNTY JAIL/WTVF)

'Can't tell if he's breathing'

During the course of the dispute, law enforcement can be heard discussing and then confirming that EMS is on the way. Although it is not clear if medical attention was requested for law enforcement or Jennette. Officers called EMS due to a laceration and then Jennette "began to change colors and CPR was initiated," the autopsy report says. During the struggle, a law enforcement officer can be heard saying, "I can't tell if he's breathing."

Jennette is then rolled over. He has blood on his face, the body cam video shows. The video obtained by the news channel WTVF then stops. Eventually, Jennette is transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead shortly after arrival, according to the autopsy report. The report says methamphetamine, amphetamine and diphenhydramine were present in Jennette's blood.

"The cause of death (is) acute combined drug intoxication," the report says. "A contributory cause of death is asphyxia. The manner of death is consistent with homicide."

More officers were called in to restrain the man (MARSHALL COUNTY JAIL/WTVF)

Daughter suing the city of Lewisburg

His daughter has filed a lawsuit against the county, the city of Lewisburg and several officers for the "beating, suffocation and resultant death" of Jennette. Video obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates shows three Marshall County jailers called for police back-up on May 6 of last year after Jennette refused to get into a restraint chair.

According to the autopsy report, Jennette’s death was a homicide, with asphyxiation a “contributing cause of death.” The coroner noted that Jennette also had multiple fractured ribs. A grand jury has already declined to bring criminal charges against the officers. "It just feels like my heart is constantly being ripped out of my chest, and there’s no peace to that," daughter Dominique Jennette told the outlet.

"Our lawsuit alleges Mr. Jennette died because he was subjected to excessive force in violation of his constitutional rights, and that the law enforcement agencies failed to provide proper training on how to restrain an inmate without killing him," attorneys for Dominique Jennette said in a statement. "We are prevented by the local rules of court from commenting further, but we look forward to pursuing justice on behalf of Mr. Jennette's family."

Ready for a lawsuit 

According to a City of Lewisburg statement, their officers responded to the situation because of a mutual aid agreement they have with the County Jail. "Mr. Jennette's passing as a result of him being in the Jail is indeed unfortunate," the City said. "We respect the right of Mr. Jennette's family to address his loss through their civil action. And, we are confident that the judicial system will provide a fair and just outcome for all parties involved in the lawsuit."

District Attorney Robert Carter reportedly confirmed that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation presented the case to a grand jury, which declined to bring charges. "We were prepared to prosecute and would have had they indicted," Carter said.

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