JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two inmates were beaten to death in a fight with other inmates in an understaffed Mississippi prison that has been shaken by other deadly violence in recent weeks, a coroner said.
The state Department of Corrections on Tuesday confirmed the men died at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and said officials are investigating.
“Both victims appear to have died from blunt force beating injuries," said Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton.
The department originally said the inmates died Monday night, but Burton later clarified that they died early Tuesday. Department spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher said the injuries occurred late Monday as the two inmates fought with other prisoners.
“At this moment, it appears to be an isolated incident — not a continuation of the recent retaliatory killings,” the Department of Corrections said Tuesday.
Violence is a recurring problem in Mississippi prisons, where many jobs for guards are unfilled.
Five inmates were killed and an undisclosed number of others inmates were injured during an outbreak of violence in Mississippi's prison system between Dec. 29 and Jan. 3. Three of those five deaths were at Parchman.
In addition to those deaths and the two on Tuesday, another inmate was found hanging in his cell Saturday night at Parchman. Burton said she was called Sunday to the prison, where Gabriel Carmen was found hanging the night before. She said corrections officials reported he had been irate and throwing feces before his death. An autopsy was being done. Prison officials said Carmen's cell lock had been jammed from inside the cell.
One of the inmates who died Tuesday was Timothy Hudspeth, 35, who was serving a 10-year sentence for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The other inmate killed was James Talley, 36, officials said in a news release. Talley was serving an 11-year sentence for two counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
More than two dozen inmates sued the state Jan. 14, saying understaffed prisons are “plagued by violence” and inmates are forced to live in decrepit and dangerous conditions. Entertainers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are paying for the attorneys in the case, a spokesperson for the two confirmed. All of the plaintiffs have been inmates at Parchman.
Team Roc, a philanthropic group affiliated with Jay-Z's entertainment company Roc Nation, will host a rally Friday in Jackson to protest prison conditions.
Because of damage caused during the unrest, hundreds of prisoners were moved from one unit at Parchman to another unit there that closed years ago because of decrepit conditions. The state then entered an emergency contract to move 375 of those inmates to a private prison nearby.
Pelicia Hall, who had been commissioner of the Department of Corrections since 2017, stepped down last week when Mississippi's new governor, Tate Reeves, was inaugurated to succeed fellow Republican Phil Bryant.
Hall said in a news release Jan. 13 that even after moving the 375 inmates, the state would have to find different housing for 625 other maximum-security inmates who had been held at Parchman's Unit 29, which was damaged in the violence.
Hall and her predecessors have repeatedly told Mississippi legislators that prisons have too few guards because the pay is low and working conditions can be dangerous.
Reeves on Thursday said the recent violence in the prisons is a “castastrophe." He appointed a former state lawmaker, Tommy Taylor, to temporarily lead the Department of Corrections, and he appointed a group to do a nationwide search for a new commissioner.
Taylor started work Monday. After the two new deaths, he said in a statement Tuesday: “The safety of staff and prisoners at Parchman is our immediate priority, and we are working hard to restore and maintain order. We believe that the motivation behind this latest altercation is limited to this new tragic set of circumstances. The environment that makes such violence possible must be addressed quickly, and we are committed to making changes to do so.”
Reeves also said the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation will assign an officer to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to uncover any criminal activity connected to the violence.
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