Ex-inmate sues for $1 million after allegedly being body-slammed for singing

Mark Tennyson alleges that a CO slammed his head and neck so hard it dislocated his shoulder

By Keri Blakinger
Houston Chronicle

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — A former Harris County inmate has launched a $1 million lawsuit after he says jailers beat him up so badly they dislocated his shoulder, then tossed him in solitary confinement and allegedly tried to cover it up.

Mark Tennyson, 27,  last week filed his claim over the alleged 2016 jailhouse beatdown, naming the county and three unidentified jailers as the targets of his legal action. The filing came just days before the Harris County District Attorney's Office announced the indictment of 5 current and former jailers for a separate 2016 beating of another inmate.

"There's a problem with excessive force in the Harris County jail," said attorney Andre Evans, who's representing Tennyson in the civil case. "These allegations aren't baseless and they have been systemic."

The Harris County Sheriff's Office referred all comment to the County Attorney, who did not immediately respond.

Tennyson was sitting in jail on a family assault charge when he says he was pulled from his pod in the middle of the night on March 3.

"Somebody was singing or rapping or making noise in his pod," Evans said. It was well after 1 a.m., and lights were out for the night - so the jailers dubbed it a group demonstration, which is banned in jail.

"Then one of the Harris County employees came and rounded up a group of about six or eight African-American inmates," Evans said. "Mr. Tennyson was one of those inmates, and he let her know it was discriminatory."

In response, a male guard allegedly slammed Tennyson's head and neck so hard it dislocated his shoulder.

"Tennyson lamented in agony," according to the lawsuit, "and immediately let the Harris County employees who were present know that his shoulder was injured."

But instead, jailers left him alone in a cell till the next morning, when day shift employees finally got him medical care, he says. Over the following months, though, his subsequent requests for treatment were repeatedly denied, according to his attorney.

And just after the beatdown, a higher-ranking jailer allegedly tried coercing Tennyson into keeping quiet, telling him that if he didn't make an issue out of the incident he wouldn't have to worry about a disciplinary record.

Ultimately Tennyson's disciplinary charges were dropped, though he did spend 24 to 48 hours in solitary confinement, Evans said.

Although the suit only covers Tennyson's claim, it harps on the jail's past mistakes, including those leading to a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice memorandum finding constitutional deficiencies such as insufficient medical treatment and potentially inappropriate use of force.

"Harris County Jail has for years, systematically failed to protect its detainees from harm, especially from harm caused by its employees," Evans wrote in court filings, also accusing the jail of a "well-documented history of misconduct involving abuse of authority or misuse of force, including beating, kicking and body-slamming inmates."

The claim doesn't list a dollar amount, but Evans said he'll be asking for more than $1 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

©2017 the Houston Chronicle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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