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The Price of Rural “Safety”
January 21, 2023
TW: While I refrain from gratuitous discussions of violence and death, the below may contain some graphic details. Some of the links include graphic images that are very disturbing. Please take care.
In August of 2020, Larry Eugene Price, Jr., a 50-year-old Black man, pointed his finger at a cop in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He pointed in a way that, if you are a four-year-old on a playground, might appear authentically threatening; it was the “finger gun” gesture, used by children and adults everywhere. He was also yelling and cursing. Bear in mind throughout, that all this happened inside the Fort Smith Police Department, which Price visited regularly.
According to the complaint filed in federal court and news reports, Price was in an acute mental health crisis at the time of his arrest. The arresting officer thought jail was in Price’s ”own best interest.”
Authorities booked Price into the Sebastian County Jail. A prosecutor charged Price with “terroristic threatening in the first degree,” and a judge set his bail at $1,000, which he could not afford. So, Price stayed in jail, mostly in solitary confinement. At one point, Price asked for help, writing in a sick-call request, “I am sick and have lost a lot of weight[.] I need to see a doctor.” A nurse saw Price eating his own feces and, concerned, asked that the guards monitor his weight. At that point, he had lost 35 pounds since being booked into jail. Guards did not monitor his food and fluid intake and did not weigh him.
In May 2021, a judge ordered that the jailers conduct a psychiatric assessment of Price. They did not. The judge did not follow up to see if it was done. (News reports say the assessment was scheduled for September.)
Alone, in his cell, Price decompensated and, ultimately, died because of insufficient food and water. He starved to death.
On August 29, 2021, a guard found Price in his cell, lying in water and urine, unresponsive. He weighed 90 pounds. He was dead. The autopsy confirmed Price died from “acute dehydration and malnutrition.”
The pictures included in the complaint are terrible to see. Suffice it to say, no one could look at Price and think he was well. There is no question that guards and everyone involved in the arresting, charging, and jailing of Price killed him and knew it.
While larger jails receive more attention – rightfully so – for their inhumane conditions, rural jails are often even worse. The punishment and jailing systems often go unexamined in rural areas, partially because of the lack of local news and partially because of … well … corruption. Lining pockets is a way of life in many corners of this country, often coming at the expense of those who can least afford it.
As a result, the system screws people in many ways. Prosecutors set high bail amounts for charges that would warrant a PR release in cities. Sheriffs have the ability to hire medical providers who give people ivermectin for COVID, some because they’re stupid enough to believe it works and others because, from the concentration camps on down, everybody loves a captive study population. Jails fail to meet safety standards, which means people sleep on the floor next to garbage or in pools of urine. (Price’s cell was regularly flooded with dirty water, so much so that his skin withered and responding medics would not use the defibrillator for fear of danger to themselves.) Public defenders – if there are any – often live far away or are overburdened, working multiple jobs. Judges run “circuit,” meaning they only hold court every few weeks or even months. Police and sheriff deputies know who to target: the people who often have illegal drugs in their possession because they are dependent on them. The people who are trying to get their kids back from child services. The people who will do anything, ANYTHING not to go to jail again because they will miss a day of work or fail to pay rent or miss their opportunity to get a housing voucher or they are on parole and do not want to risk a lengthy prison sentence.
And then there are people like Larry Price.
The sheriff of Sebastian County, Hobe Runion blamed an “out-of-town” lawyer and says nothing bad happened: “That lawyer made a lot of allegations, and out-of-state reporters have repeated those allegations as if they were all true; they're not.”
The sheriff also argued that the problem was “legislation” because of the need for someone else to deal with the mentally ill. He argued that he could not release Price and that blame on the sheriff was unfounded.
Here’s the thing. It’s unquestionably clear that there are insufficient resources for the mentally ill in society. But this does not eliminate the requirement to give the mentally ill the basic resources for life. It’s wrong to act as though people “need treatment” and then will “get better” but in the meantime are just piles of flesh, deserving nothing. People must be treated like people now, not when they have earned it.