‘You Could Hear Him Screaming’: Black Inmate Was Pepper Sprayed, His Face Covered In a Mask Before Missouri Guards Allegedly Left Him to Die

Five former Missouri prison guards have been indicted for their role in the death of a Black inmate at the Jefferson City Correctional Center who witness accounts say complied with their orders, a narrative underscored by surveillance footage.

Othel Moore Jr., 38, died Dec. 8, 2023, after several prison guards pepper-sprayed him, covered his head with a spit hood and helmet, then restrained him and left him in a position that eventually led to his suffocation. Moore was killed during what was supposed to be a routine contraband sweep by the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Now Justin Leggins, 34, Jacob Case, 31, Aaron Brown, 24, and Gregory Varner, 34, have all been charged with second-degree assault and second-degree murder. Bryanne Bradshaw, 25, has been charged with second-degree involuntary manslaughter.

Five Former Missouri Prison Guards Charged In Death of Compliant Black Inmate Who Was Pepper Sprayed, Face Covered In a Mask and Left to Die
Civil rights attorneys Larry Disparti, Andrew M. Stroth, Steven Hart, Ben Stelter-Embry, and the family of Othel Moore hold a press conference regarding the death of Othel Moore on Dec. 19, 2023, at the Jefferson City Correctional Center. (YouTube screenshot/Disparti Law Group, P.A.)

The charges were announced on June 28, and all five defendants had been taken into custody at the time of this writing. Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Locke Thompson says the charges are “appropriate” for the crime.

“After sitting down and reviewing all evidence, the dozens and dozens of interviews, all the reports, we determined that charges were appropriate,” Thompson told The Associated Press.

According to an AP report, Moore was strip-searched inside his cell, handcuffed and led outside before being ordered to face the wall — which he did with no aggression — a probable cause report by deputies states.

For reasons unknown, things escalated, and Moore was prepper-sprayed, masked, restrained and moved to a separate wing unattended for 30 minutes before being taken to the hospital wing and pronounced dead.

Former inmate Jordan Seller, who is white, told CNN he witnessed the entire ordeal, noting that Moore was compliant, posed no threat and only became vocal after being pepper-sprayed and moved down the stairs in a “real aggressive” way.

Seller said after Moore was restrained, he did unsuccessfully try to stop the guards from placing the spit hood on his face out of fear.

“Of course he’s refusing this, because there’s no reason for them to put a spit mask on,” Seller said, noting this occurred just a few feet away from his cell. “He don’t know what’s going on. He can’t see, you know, so they’re grabbing on him trying to put something on his head. He’s fighting it. Well, then they started shocking him with the shock glove.”

Seller added that guards doubled up and put something that resembled “an all-black motorcycle helmet” on Moore’s head. Seller said Moore, who was serving time for convictions on charges that included robbery and domestic assault, also said he was allergic to the pepper spray.

“Immediately he’s jumping, hopping, and you can hear him screaming, you know, ‘Help! I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe, take it off. I can’t breathe. I’m, I’m allergic to mace. I need help.’ And then it gets worse and worse,” Seller said, noting that after that, Moore’s screams got “weaker and weaker” before he was taken to the infirmary.

“He’s jumping up and down shaking. And, you know, slowly, his screams are getting weaker and weaker,” Seller said. “I believe I watched him die before they even took him out the wing,” he said.

Moore’s mother and sister are seeking additional accountability. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit on June 28 after the charges were announced. They are represented by attorneys Andrew M. Stroth and Steven Hart.

“These charges are historic. These charges are unprecedented. When you hear about what happened, witnesses saw what happened, video evidence shows what happened. It’s George Floyd 3.0 in a prison,” Stroth said at a press conference.

The Missouri Department of Corrections said it has fired 10 people involved in Moore’s death and discontinued the use of the restraint system in which Moore was held. MDOC also said it was cooperating with Thompson’s investigation.

According to a report by ABC 17, Moore’s death was the punctuation to what he claimed was a history of abuse. In 2021, he filed a lawsuit alleging abuse by correction officers and a nurse while incarcerated at the South Central Correctional Center in Licking, Missouri.

Moore’s sister, Oriel Moore, said her brother had been complaining about how he was treated in prison for years. “For the last six years, he’s been complaining to me about the abuse and mistreatment that he’s been getting from the corrections officers specifically,” Oriel said during a press conference.

Oriel also said her brother went to jail when he was very young and was looking forward to his release so he could rebuild his life and spend more time with his family once released. She mourns that he won’t have the chance to implement his plans.

“My brother won’t be here to protect me no more. I can’t confide in him. He can’t confide in me,” Oriel said.

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