Man with mental health issues filed lawsuit against sheriff for alleged jail beating six weeks before being killed by police

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Haraesheo Rice filed a federal lawsuit against Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning and six employees for an alleged beating in the Madison County jail in 2015. Six weeks later,  Huntsville Police say they found him waving a gun on Green Meadow Road . Police say he wouldn't drop his weapon, and they shot and killed him. Police found two other people shot at the scene, one fatally and one through the hand.

Rice's lawsuit, filed on August 12, 2017, says exactly two years earlier Rice was in the jail when:

  • Corrections officers (C.O.s) decided to perform a cell extraction on Rice
  • Rice was "distressed" because he had not received proper medical attention and a broken sprinkler in his cell was filling the space with water
  • C.O.s donned full combat gear, complete with jail-issued weapons and shields, which exacerbated Rice's mental health crisis
  • The C.O.s were not properly trained to perform cell extractions or deal with mentally ill inmates
  • The C.O.s beat Rice and threw him around his cell, eventually fully restraining him in a chair
  • While Rice's hands, legs and body were fully strapped down, C.O.s continued to hit him in the head, eventually knocking him unconscious

The lawsuit notes Rice suffers from both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which require medication for treatment. The lawsuit says jail personnel knew Rice and knew that he struggled with mental health issues requiring medication. Jail records show Rice has been arrested 17 times in the last decade.

Ten days after the alleged beating, his family and friends protested outside the Madison County jail. They told WHNT News 19 that they were never notified Rice had even been taken to the hospital.

Haraesheo’s mother, Terry Rice, told WHNT News 19, “Some of the inmates call my family members and tell them that they see Haraesheo and his head is so big that it looks like it’s about to burst. His eyes are bloodshot red like the blood vessels are bursted in them. But that’s the only information that I’m receiving and that’s from inmates.”

At the time, Rice's mother told us of his long history of mental illness.

She also said he was afraid of police.

When the initial incident happened our news partners at al.com reported that the FBI and Madison County Sheriff's Office were investigating the incident. They spoke with then-Chief Deputy David Jernigan.

"On Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 there were two cell extractions," said Jernigan. He said Rice would not come out of his cell. "So he was extracted on the 11th."

That confrontation with detention officers led to department disciplinary action, said Jernigan. "That is still under investigation."

However, Jernigan said Rice "suffered injuries" during the second extraction on Aug. 12. That led to Rice being rushed to Huntsville Hospital.

The incident led Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison to question how the jail was being run, saying in October of 2015, "It's obvious. The kinds of problems we have, lawsuits that we have, EEOC complaints, claims that we have, that something isn`t working."

Haraesheo's mother spoke to the commission about her son at that time. She told us just after the meeting, "They are concerned about my son, but it's not even all about my son it's about people being treated fairly."

We have reached out to both the sheriff's office and the FBI to check on the status of their investigations. Neither have responded.

Rice's lawsuit says Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning, who is over the jail, did not discipline the employees involved.

Six weeks after Rice filed the lawsuit, Huntsville Police responded to a "shots fired" call. They say they found Rice on Green Meadow Road, waving a gun at them.

According to HPD, an officer told Rice to drop the gun, but he pointed it at officers. Officers fired and killed him.

Police say they found two other people who had been shot on the scene, one fatally and one through the hand.

Rice was 31.