Death of Black man at Clackamas County jail spurs protests
"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.
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.
â€œSay his name â€” Jermelle Madison!â€— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) September 11, 2021
Demonstrators are marching today in honor of a Black man who died while in the custody of the Clackamas County Sheriffâ€™s Office near Portland
Black Panther Party organizers say police have refused to release the details of Jermelleâ€™s death pic.twitter.com/xxiwvB39Cz
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.
"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.
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.
Follow me on Twitter
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.