What happened to Sheneque Proctor?

What happened to Sheneque Proctor?

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Photo: Sheneque Proctor with her son, Zamaruien Blevins. Proctor died in an Alabama jail in November.

Ed. Note: With protests continuing over grand jury rulings in New York and Fergusson, Missouri – both exonerating police officers involved in the death of an African American male – residents in Birmingham, Alabama are beginning to demand answers into the November death of an 18-year-old African American woman while in prison. Few answers have been forthcoming. The case has sparked growing controversy in the community and has gained the attention of the NAACP.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The death of an 18-year-old woman while in custody in the city of Bessemer, outside Birmingham, has sparked controversy among residents of this largely African American community. Many, including the NAACP, are asking how she died and who was responsible.

County and city authorities aren’t talking, but the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) is looking into the Nov. 2 death of Sheneque Proctor in the Bessemer City Jail, according to SBI spokeswoman Robyn Bryan.

Ms. Proctor, who lived in neighboring Brighton, was at a Bessemer hotel with friends when she was arrested on Saturday night, Nov. 1. Her aunt, Tracy Rodda, said that officers told Proctor she was being charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Early the next morning, she was found dead in her cell, according to Rodda, who said her niece had complained of problems with asthma.

Bessemer officers declined to give details when a reporter representing Weld asked them how Sheneque Proctor died and what she was charged with. The reporter asked to see a copy of the arrest report but was denied.

Bessemer City Attorney Shan Paden said, “I know the case. I know we had a death in the jail. Erring on a conservative side, not to protect the city but to protect the rights of an 18-year-old, the city of Bessemer will not disclose any information.”

Proctor’s mother, Scherita Proctor, reached at her home, said, “We don’t know what happened. I’ve heard lots of things. I don’t want to speculate. We’re waiting on a death certificate.”

Proctor graduated from Pleasant Grove High School in May. Her mother described her as “sweet and loving.” Sheneque leaves behind a 5-month-old son, Zamaruien Blevins.

Besides the controversy arising from the death of an 18-year-old mother, there are questions being raised about how exactly Proctor was treated. Relatives indicated that Sheneque complained of how officers had dealt with her.

“She said three officers were handling her really rough,” said Rodda, who added witnesses have claimed as many as six Bessemer officers were involved with Sheneque’s arrest.

Later calls to Scherita Proctor to confirm Rodda’s account were not returned.

Rodda said that on the night of her arrest Sheneque Proctor had called her mother, who did not have the bail money. Rodda said she wishes she had gotten the call. “Maybe we could have come up with $235 [for bail].”

On the morning of Saturday, Nov. 2, two detectives went to the Brighton home of Scherita Proctor and informed her of her daughter’s death, according to Rodda.

“They gave her a card with the number of the coroner’s office on it in case she wanted to go see her body,” Rodda said, “but the coroner’s office is not open on weekends, so she had to wait until Monday morning.”

Rodda said that relatives and Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, went to the jail to get information and Sheneque’s belongings. “No one was available to talk to us,” Rodda said. “They were all in a meeting.” A subsequent visit to city hall found the mayor was out. She said they asked for a callback but did not receive one. The family was, however, referred to the State Bureau of Investigation.

Hank Sherrod, a Birmingham-Southern and Vanderbilt Law School graduate, is a civil rights attorney in Florence. He has filed federal lawsuits on behalf of families of three detainees who died while awaiting trial in the Madison County Jail in Huntsville.

“In my experience, when government officials are not forthcoming, it is for a reason,” explained Sherrod. “Young healthy people like Ms. Proctor do not die in jail unless mistakes were made. Government officials do not provide details because the details do not make them look good. Deaths like this one are almost always preventable.”