Were a series of suicides in a Mississippi jail really murder

Andre Jones

Andre Jones

In the summer of 1992, Andre Jones was 18-years-old and about to start his freshman year of college.  His mother, Esther, was President of the Jackson Mississippi branch of the NAACP.  His stepfather, Charles X. Quinn, was a Nation of Islam minister.  In the early morning hours of Saturday, August 22nd, Andre and his girlfriend, Tanisha Love, were driving home when they approached a sobriety checkpoint.  At the time, Andre was driving a friend’s pick-up truck.

A half hour later, Andre’s parents were awakened by a phone call from Tanisha.  Andre had been arrested.  At 2:00 AM, Andre called his parents from the Brandon Police station.  He said he was unaware of what he’d been charged with.  At 4:00 AM, Andre telephoned again, this time to say he had been transferred to the Simpson County Jail, 40 miles south of Jackson.  According to Andre’s mother Esther, her son still didn’t know what the charges were against him:

“We were told that they could not tell us anything at that time.  And Simpson County just refused to even talk to us and they told us that we could not come to their jail.”

Esther said she spoke to Andre at least five different times on Saturday:

“We could not tell him anything.  He was very much concerned about getting out immediately so that he could attend school the very next day.”

Then at midnight on Saturday, the Quinns heard a knock on their door.  It was a Jackson police officer.  According to Esther, the officer handed her a piece of paper:

“It only had a phone number for the Simpson County Jail.  There was not a note.  There was not a message.  It was only a number.”

Andre was arrested and charged

Andre was arrested and charged

Esther immediately called the police station and received some devastating news:

“I was informed that Andre had committed suicide.  I was casually informed… as if they could’ve been talking to someone that didn’t even know who he was.”

According to Andre’s parents, he had never shown suicidal tendencies.  He had never even suffered from depression.  Andre had no previous arrest record, so when Esther and Charles Quinn started to look into his death, they naturally began with the circumstances of his arrest. 

That night, Andre and Tanisha stopped by the Quinn’s house in Jackson around 11:45.  They left and drove east toward Brandon, where Tanisha lived.  Near the Brandon city limits, they came upon the checkpoint.  According to the police, Andre stopped just short of the checkpoint and tossed something out the window.  Police identified the object as a .38 caliber handgun.  Inside the truck, police said there was an open can of beer.  And finally, the truck—which Andre had borrowed and driven for more than a week—turned out to be stolen.

However, Tanisha Love’s version of the events was quite different from the police report.  According to Tanisha, the moment that the officers heard Andre’s name, their attitude immediately changed:

“After they asked him his name, they all went to… a little huddle, you know a football huddle… I don’t know what they were talking about because they were talking low.  And after that, that’s when they came to the truck and asked Andre again, did he have his license and he said no sir, don’t have my license.  And they asked him to step out the truck and that’s when they handcuffed him.  They shackled his feet and they had him handcuffed at the same time. I didn’t understand what was going on.”

But according to the State Public Safety Commissioner Jim Ingram, Andre Jones was never shackled.  In fact, Ingram disagreed with Tanisha’s entire account:

“There was no confrontation whatsoever with young Andre Jones.  In fact, the officers were very amazed how cooperative he was.”

Dr. Ward reviewed the autopsy

Dr. Ward reviewed the autopsy

According to Jackson Police, Andre was charged on four counts:  driving a truck whose vehicle identification number had been altered, carrying a concealed weapon, possession of stolen license plate tags, and driving with an open container of alcohol.  Commissioner Ingram remained adamant that the arrest was not confrontational.  Charles Quinn, however, said that an inmate in Brandon told him that police used racial slurs to intimidate his son:

“One of the inmates who was transferred with Andre said that the officer said, ‘Do you know what happens to niggers for stealing a white man’s truck?’  And of course, other statements were said to put fear in Andre.”

The next day, Andre was transferred to the Simpson County Jail.  That night, his body was found in a shower stall at the end of a dimly lit corridor.  Authorities state that Andre tied his own shoelace to an iron grate above the showerhead and hung himself.  When Charles Quinn was allowed to visit the cell, he estimated the grate was about eight feet above the floor:

“He would need someone to have held him up to do that, and he would have needed some type of stool to stand on.”

Dr. Steven Hayne, the state-approved pathologist who performed the autopsy, said investigators had demonstrated that it was possible for Andre to have hung himself unaided:

“That position was easily reached by a member of the sheriff’s office who was acting as the decedent.”

Less than a week after Andre’s death, his parents hired an independent pathologist, Dr. James Bryant, to examine the remains and review the case:

“I think that he was strangled.  Someone did this to him.  In the usual case of a suicide by hanging, the ligature mark is along the side of the neck and doesn’t go all the way around.  It’s in this fashion, whereas in the case of Andre Jones, the ligature marking went along the side of the neck and all the way into the back and criss-crossed in this fashion.  This suggests to me that… someone had to come behind and wrapped the ligature around his neck.”

The official autopsy report listed no evidence of bruising on Andre’s neck or anywhere else on his body.  However, Dr. Bryant’s observations were different:

“He had some bruising under one of his eyes and also he had some bruising on the shoulder of the same side.  The bruising could’ve been right at the time that he died or it could’ve been some time during the day, but apparently… he suffered some kind of blunt trauma some time during the time he was in the jail.”

A year after Andre’s death, Mississippi named a new state medical examiner, Dr. Emily Ward.  Dr. Ward reviewed Andre’s autopsy report as well as the autopsies of several other men who had died by hanging in Mississippi jails:

“I think that it’s extremely unlikely that any of these deaths are anything other than suicide.  All the deaths have been investigated by not just one agency but one or two or sometimes three.”

To date, vindication has eluded the Quinns.  They filed two lawsuits—one against the State of Mississippi, the other against the federal government.  However, both were dismissed.  An investigation by the US Justice Department cited Mississippi’s jail system for what they called “gross deficiencies,” including unsanitary conditions and untrained employees.  But the report failed to find evidence that the Mississippi hangings were anything other than suicides.