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Video Shows Violent Death of Mentally Ill Inmate

Video Shows Violent Death of Mentally Ill Inmate

By Ben Hall. CREATED Nov 8, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered another disturbing video that raises questions about the treatment of the mentally ill behind bars.

In August 2010, officers at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, armed with Tasers and shock shields, forced Jason Toll out of his barricaded cell.

A prison video shows the extraction team got Toll on his stomach and cuffed his hands and feet. They then carried him out of the cell to an unlit prison yard and restrained him with shock shields.

In the video, you can hear Toll claiming he could not breathe.

Minutes later, the 33-year-old was dead.

The medical examiner said Toll died from "suffocation" and ruled his death a "homicide."

"They weren't helping at all," said Jason Toll's mother, Jane Luna. "They kept on. You could tell he couldn't breathe."

She is haunted by her son's pleas for help and blames his death on a system that regularly locks the mentally ill behind bars.

"He would hear voices that would tell him to hurt himself," Luna remembered of her son.

Doctors agree Toll had severe mental illness. He was diagnosed as bipolar and with a form of schizophrenia.

"He wasn't capable of day to day functions," said psychiatrist David Street. "This is a guy who needed institutions to stay alive."

Dr. Street never treated Toll, but he reviewed hundreds of pages of Toll's medical records.

He said that Toll's case is a tragic example of what happens when people with severe mental illness wind up in prison.

"Correctional institutions are not designed to do mental health delivery, they're for criminals," Street said.

Jason Toll didn't seem like a kid headed to prison.

At age 12, he was pitching for his Goodlettsville baseball team. He had a sense of humor, friends and a family that loved him.

But Toll's mom said that, around age 15, he started acting oddly and getting into trouble.

"He never hurt anybody.  I didn't really think it was mental illness at first, I just thought he was doing bad things," Luna said.

She tried to get him help but said she was turned away from mental institutions.

"They told me he wasn't bad enough to keep," Luna said.

Dr. David Street is concerned by the constantly shrinking number of mental health beds in the state.

In 2000, there were 1000 beds, in 2010 there were 660 and today it's down to 550.

"I think what you're seeing is, they're in the criminal justice system because there is actually nothing else that is catching these folks," Dr. Street said.

Currently, one out of every three inmates in Tennessee prisons has a medically diagnosed mental illness.

Toll was eventually charged with aggravated burglary for breaking into a neighbors home.

Once in custody, he got a reputation for being difficult.

Other videos show an earlier cell extractions. Toll's record listed suicide attempts, even an escape attempt.

On the day Toll died, he threw urine on an officer and refused to leave his cell.

That is when the extraction team went in.

Luna was shocked when the state reviewed the video and called it a by-the-book cell extraction.

She sued the prison officers, but a jury ruled they did nothing wrong.

Luna does not want her son to go down as just another unruly inmate to die in prison.  

She said that the problem is much bigger than that, and Dr. Street agreed.

"When there is no other place for the mentally ill to go, what happens to these folks," he asked.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

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Ben Hall is a veteran reporter at NewsChannel 5. He has covered the state legislature, presidential campaigns and is presently part of NewsChannel 5's award-winning investigative unit.