Ellison Bennett, a national board member of the National Movement for Civil and Human Rights, addressed the Escambia County Commission on June 26th concerning thirty-seven families that are being represented by himself and Attorney Gerald McKenzie. The families are complaining about the medical services that their family members are not receiving as a result of the jail explosion on April 30th, the day after the record 27 inches of torrential rains that hit Escambia County. Bennett has been involved with the families of the injured inmates since immediately following the explosion that killed two inmates and injured 184.
The concerns for the health of the inmates was heightened by complaints of recurring nightmares and unaddressed injuries. Additionally, the families, according to Bennett, are very concerned about reports that the inmates were forced to use plastic bags to deposit bodily fluids and waste when the power and plumbing were not working after the storm that produced the flooding conditions. He also stated that bio-hazard bags were supposed to be utilized during these conditions to guard against airborne diseases, however, that was not the case. Thus, medical services are needed to determine if any air borne diseases were transmitted endangering the health of the survivors during the disaster.
County Commission Chairman Lumon May responded to Bennett’s presentation by sharing his concerns for the impact of the explosion on the inmates and their families. He further stated that he expects the County to live up to its responsibilities to the inmates and their families. Bennett went on to comment that physical and mental health services are being requested by the representatives of the families as he went on the ask four specific questions during his presentation:
- Are continued medical services to be offered to released inmates and those transferred to other state facilities?
- Are the County Commissioners conducting an investigation and when is it expected to be completed?
- Is the Escambia County Sheriff Department conducting an investigation?
- Has the Centers for Disease Control been contacted?
The County Attorney in response to the questions stated that there are several investigations going on by the State Attorney, the State Fire Marshall’s Office, and the Office of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. She stated that a decision is expected to be made later this year on any criminal charges. She went on to elaborate that there have been inquiries from attorneys of the inmates and those persons that have been released. Investigators have spoken to jail employees and potential litigation is expected. Following those comments, Bennett exclaimed that one of the most frustrating circumstances is that the medical bills are being sent to the inmates after they receive medical attention. The County Attorney responded that the inmates should not be receiving those bills. She went on to point out that the Escambia County Commission would be approving five positions to service the health needs of the jail inmates.
In an interview with the Pensacola Voice, County Administrator Jack Brown confirmed that he has reached out to Ellison Bennett to establish a meeting with the families to answer all questions. He stated very succinctly that he takes all these issues very seriously. The National Movement for Civil and Human Rights which Bennett represents is led by its President Rev. H.K. Matthews who is also an official in the AME Zion Church.