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D.C. Activists Call for Answers Into Mysterious Demise of Black Inmate Who Died Just Hours After His Arrest

Washington, D.C., officials are investigating the sudden death of an inmate found slumped and unresponsive in his cell last month amid demands for answers from the man’s family and local activist groups.

Authorities arrested Jamaal Byrd on Sept. 30 on suspicion of selling pot at a restaurant on North Capitol Street, according to The Washington Post, citing a police report. Organizers with Black Lives Matter D.C. said Byrd, 33, was  on his way to sign up for a job training program when police took him into custody.

Jamaal Byrd

Organizers with Black Lives Matter D.C. are calling for accountability and transparency in the city’s investigation into the death of inmate Jamaal Byrd. (Photo: Black Lives Matter D.C.)

The man was transported to the District’s Central Cell Block in the basement of D.C. Police headquarters, where he and other arrestees were held as they awaited their initial hearing in D.C. Superior Court. However, Byrd would never make it to see a judge, who would decide if he should be released or or taken to jail to await trial.

As stated in the report, a guard was making his rounds just before midnight Oct. 1 when he discovered Byrd alone in his cell, passed out on the bed. The guard attempted CPR and Byrd was rushed to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, just seven hours after his arrest.

The inmate’s mother is now calling for answers, saying her son’s death has left the family “traumatized.”

“We need answers,” Byrd’s mother, Roxane Johnson, said in a statement distributed by Black Lives Matter D.C. “My son was in great health — what happened to cause his death while in the custody of the DC Department of Corrections?”

“Nothing will bring my son back,” Johnson added, “but I am demanding to know what happened to my son! He meant the world to me and my family.”

A spokesperson with the D.C. Department of Corrections offered her condolences to the Byrd family and said an investigation is underway. It’s been more than a month since Byrd’s death, however, and officials with the District’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner say the autopsy results are still pending.

April Goggans, a lead organizer for Black Lives Matter D.C.,  released a statement late last month saying the organization is “demanding public transparency and accountability” in the city’s investigation into Byrd’s death.

The group further calls on D.C. leaders, including Mayor Murial Bowser, D.C. Department of Corrections Director Quincy L. Booth, to launch an “immediate, expeditious and full review” of Byrds death, ensure anyone involved be fired without pension/benefits, and to release all body cam footage,  CCTV and autopsy findings to the public.

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