Nelms family files lawsuit in hanging death at jail

By BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Posted 2/16/17

The family of Ralph Lee Nelms has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga concerning his hanging death while an inmate at the Bradley County Jail on or about Sept. 18.

Nelms, who …

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Nelms family files lawsuit in hanging death at jail


The family of Ralph Lee Nelms has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga concerning his hanging death while an inmate at the Bradley County Jail on or about Sept. 18.

Nelms, who was 41 at the time of his death, had been arrested and charged by the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office with three counts of burglary.

According to the lawsuit, Nelms was being held in the booking area of the “overcrowded Bradley County Jail, an area where Bradley County Jail staff can see into the fronts of all the cells.”

The family contends Nelms was showing “suicidal risk behavior and exhibited erratic behavior.”

Cited in the suit is a jail policy requiring the jail’s booking staff with “notifying appropriate personnel as soon as possible in the event an inmate requires medical attention.”

The family claims Nelms was not referred for a mental health screening by the jail staff “even though [Nelms] exhibited unstable, erratic behaviors demonstrating that he was a potential danger to himself.”

“Bradley County Jail staff intentionally refused to accommodate [Nelms] by placing [Nelms] in his cell covering the window completely blocking their view into his cell as well as leaving him with an instrument to complete any suicidal ideations, his cloth gown straps,” the lawsuit states.

The family also claims the jail staff “failed to conduct an adequate safety check” on Nelms and that Nelms “hung more than 30 minutes before being discovered by defendants and cut down.”

Also named in the lawsuit are BCSO Deputies Ronald Reddish, Gabe Black and Tim Boyd who, the suit claims, knew of Nelms’ suicidal tendencies “and failed to provide sufficient safeguards to adequately protect him from harming himself.”

The three officers were indicted by the Bradley County grand jury in December for official misconduct, following parallel investigations by the BCSO and the TBI.

Black faces an additional charge of tampering with evidence and tampering with governmental records.

All three men have since left the employment of the BCSO — Reddish and Black by termination and Boyd by resignation.

The lawsuit also alleges that four “John Does,” who were jail employees at the time of Nelms’ death, knew of a “suicide risk” and failed “to protect him by removing the cloth straps from his possession and not keeping an appropriate watch on [Nelms].”

Because of what the family alleges were “actions and omissions undertaken with malice and/or reckless disregard,” they allege Nelms was denied his Constitutional rights.

The family is claiming the damages due to Nelms’ death include:

n Conscious [and] physical pain, suffering and death;

n Severe emotional injuries;

n Mental anguish;

n Economic loss including wage loss;

n Exemplary damages;

n Attorneys fees and costs;

n Loss of love, society and companionship;

n Reasonable funeral and burial expenses; and

n All other damages allowable by law.

No specific monetary amount was mentioned in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by Kristen Danielle Nelms, as administrator of his estate, on behalf of his two minor-aged sons.

Nelms’ obituary listed the plaintiff as “the mother of his children” and not as his spouse.

The family has requested a jury trial; however, U.S. District Court Judge Pamela Reeves issued an order last week that the parties “must meet ... prior to the filing of a motion to dismiss to determine whether it can be avoided.”

A scheduling timeline for the case has yet to be filed with the court.


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