The death of an 18-year-old Brighton woman has sparked a controversy over how she died and who was responsible, and has drawn the attention of the NAACP.
County and city authorities aren’t talking, but the State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the Nov. 2 death of Sheneque Proctor in the Bessemer City Jail, according to SBI spokeswoman Robyn Bryan.
Ms. Proctor was at a Bessemer hotel with friends when she was arrested on Saturday night, Nov. 1. Her aunt, Tracy Rodda, said that officers told Proctor she was being charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Early the next morning, she was found dead in her cell, according to Rodda, who said her niece had complained of problems with asthma.
Bessemer officers declined to give details when a reporter representing Weld asked them how Sheneque Proctor died and what she was charged with. The reporter asked to see a copy of the arrest report but was denied.
Bessemer City Attorney Shan Paden said, “I know the case. I know we had a death in the jail. Erring on a conservative side, not to protect the city but to protect the rights of an 18-year-old, the city of Bessemer will not disclose any information.”
Proctor’s mother, Scherita Proctor, reached at her home, said, “We don’t know what happened. I’ve heard lots of things. I don’t want to speculate. We’re waiting on a death certificate.”
Proctor graduated from Pleasant Grove High School in May. Her mother described her as “sweet and loving.” Sheneque leaves behind a 5-month-old son, Zamaruien Blevins.
Besides the controversy arising from the death of an 18-year-old mother, there are questions being raised about how exactly Proctor was treated. Relatives indicated that Sheneque complained of how officers had dealt with her.
“She said three officers were handling her really rough,” said Rodda. According to Rodda, Scherita Proctor called attention to witnesses who said that as many as six Bessemer officers were involved with Sheneque’s arrest.
Scherita Proctor did not make those statements to a Weld reporter, however. Subsequent calls to confirm those accounts with the mother were not answered or returned.
Ms. Rodda said that although Sheneque Proctor had called her mother, Scherita Proctor did not have the bail money. Rodda said she wishes she had gotten the call. “Maybe we could have come up with $235 [for bail],” she said.
On the morning of Saturday, Nov. 2, two detectives went to the Brighton home of Scherita Proctor and informed her of her daughter’s death, according to Ms. Rodda.
“They gave her a card with the number of the coroner’s office on it in case she wanted to go see her body,” Rodda said, “but the coroner’s office is not open on weekends, so she had to wait until Monday morning.”
Rodda said that relatives and Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, went to the jail to get information and Sheneque’s belongings. “No one was available to talk to us,” Rodda said. “They were all in a meeting.” A subsequent visit to city hall found the mayor was out. She said they asked for a callback but did not receive one. The family was, however, referred to the State Bureau of Investigation.
Simelton, who clarified that they were told the police and mayor were in staff meetings, is not a lawyer, but an advocate for the family.
Hank Sherrod, a Birmingham-Southern and Vanderbilt Law School graduate, is a civil rights attorney in Florence. He has filed federal lawsuits on behalf of families of three detainees who died while awaiting trial in the Madison County Jail in Huntsville. In October CNN ran a story on the deaths of those inmates, one of whom died of alcohol withdrawal, another of complications due to constipation, and the third from gangrene, according to the lawsuit and the news report.
Rodda said she had spoken to Sherrod but referred him to Scherita Proctor. Contacted by Weld at his office sometime later, Sherrod said he was not at present representing anyone in the death of Sheneque Proctor. Still, Sherrod made this prepared statement:
“It is always difficult to comment when government officials won’t provide details about a jail death. In my experience, however, when government officials are not forthcoming, it is for a reason. Young healthy people like Ms. Proctor do not die in jail unless mistakes were made. Government officials do not provide details because the details do not make them look good. Deaths like this one are almost always preventable.
“We know she had asthma, and I understand she was having breathing problems. A breathing problem is an obvious, serious medical need jailers cannot ignore. If jail personnel knew Ms. Proctor was having breathing problems, they should have called for paramedics or called the jail nurse, if the city had one,” Sherrod said.