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Family members demand answers for Jermelle Madison, who was found unresponsive inside his cell and was later declared dead in a hospital.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A memorial for Jermelle Madison, 23, sits on the sidewalk at the Clackamas County administrative complex in Oregon City. "Say his name — Jermelle Madison!"

Demonstrators demanded justice Saturday, Sept. 11, for a young Black man who died in June in the custody of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, calling on the authorities to release more information regarding the circumstances surrounding his reportedly self-inflicted death.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A woman carries a sign reading, 'Silence is Violence,' as protesters marched through the Clackamas County Red Soils Campus during a protest in honor of Jermelle Madison on Saturday, Sept. 11. Jermelle Joseph Madison Jr. — known by his nickname, Melle — was found unresponsive inside his jail cell around 4:30 p.m. on June 28, according to organizers and media reports. The 23-year-old Milwaukie resident was transported to Sunnyside Medical Center and later declared dead by suicide on July 3.

"Jermelle died in police custody in the midst of having a mental health crisis. If they followed their protocols, that could have been avoided," said a protester organizer, giving his name as Bunchy Carter, a founder of the Black Panthers who died in the 1960s.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A leader of the Black Panther Party in Washington state gave his name as Bunchy Carter. Carter and a half-dozen others carried rifles as a crowd gathered outside the Clackamas County Jail on Saturday. After a round of speeches, the demonstrators marched through the county's Red Soils Campus in Oregon City, passing through a farmers market and a 9/11 commemoration ceremony before dispersing without incident.

Carter, the minister of defense for the Black Panther Party of Washington, said authorities need to provide details to Madison's family, who say they still don't know who Madison's cellmate was or how often guards were checking on him.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Protesters begin to march after gathering outside the Clackamas County Jail in Oregon City on Saturday, Sept. 11 during a protest for Jermelle Madison, who was declared dead in the hospital after being found unresponsive inside his cell. "The bigger problem right now is recognizing that the police represent a system that doesn't represent us," added Carter, calling for the creation of a civilian review commission for police similar to the new independent police oversight board approved by Portland voters.

Court records show Madison was arrested Dec. 21, 2020, on charges of unlawful use of a weapon, menacing, fourth-degree assault and resisting arrest for an incident allegedly involving a knife. The case was eventually dismissed without any convictions due to Madison's death.

Clackamas Circuit Court Judge Heather Karabeika ordered Madison evaluated by the Oregon State Hospital and then found him unfit for trial due to his mental health issues in February of this year. Court records say Madison was also struggling with substance abuse.

Madison was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was released to Central City Concern, who placed the young man in several Portland motels, according to an exposé by Double Sided Media, an independent collective based in Lane County.

Madison ended up back in jail on June 20 after a warrant was filed for missing a court date, the article says, allegedly after his mental health coordinator went on vacation and failed to inform the family about the pending appearance.

In August, a county surveyor named Collin Williams was charged with abusing a memorial to the dead and committing a second-degree bias crime after he allegedly spray-painted swastikas and smashed photos of Madison set up on a sidewalk along the government complex.

Williams was released after paying a $10,000 bail Aug. 16, and is scheduled to enter a plea on Oct. 27, records say.

Organizers at the rally said Madison was placed in the general population unit of the jail despite pleas from his family that the young man could pose a danger to himself and needed a higher level of care.

"We want accountability and transparency from the people that we pay taxes to, and who are supposed to be protecting us," said a woman with Clackamas County Standing Up for Racial Justice who asked not to be named. "We know that the system doesn't support Black youth."

Officials with the Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Votive candles and photos of Jermelle Madison have been placed at a memorial that was restored after it was allegedly vandalized by a Clackamas County employee in August.

Help is available:

Help is available for community members struggling due to a mental health crisis or thoughts of self-harm.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255.

The Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 crisis support by text. Text 741741 to be connected to a trained counselor.

The Multnomah County Mental Health Call Center is available 24 hours a day at 503-988-4888.

Zane Sparling
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