Sevierville family still searching for answers a year after son

Sevierville family still searching for answers a year after son died in Washington Co. jail

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“We are completely devastated. It's ruined our family. We have a seven year old who constantly wonders when her big brother is going to come home,” said Joe and Natasha Peppers, the parents of Stewart. “We are completely devastated. It's ruined our family. We have a seven year old who constantly wonders when her big brother is going to come home,” said Joe and Natasha Peppers, the parents of Stewart.
By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

SEVIERVILLE (WATE) - A Sevierville couple is still searching for answers a year after their son died while being detained in jail.

Stewart Peppers, 22, died on April 29, 2013. He was arrested and held for three days in the Washington County jail. His family claims he was beaten to death by half a dozen corrections officers there and filed a lawsuit as a result. The family’s attorney says the process is taking longer to move forward.

The Peppers' federal lawsuit was filed in July of last year. They seek $21 million in damages on civil rights violations and wrongful death grounds against Washington County, the sheriff and six Washington County jail corrections officers.

The Peppers' attorney says he has eye witness testimony that Stewart Pepper was beaten to death in a holding cell.

Stewart Peppers was a competitive body builder attending East Tennessee State University pursuing a degree in nutrition. In a YouTube video Peppers gave diet advice and talked about hoping to compete in a bodybuilding show in 2014.

According to the Peppers' attorney on April 26, 2013, Stewart Peppers was arrested on drug, assault, vandalism and attempted car-jacking charges. Peppers' parents say he started acting strangely a few days before his arrest. Until then he'd never been in trouble before. After spending three days in jail they got the news their son was dead.

“We are completely devastated. It's ruined our family. We have a seven year old who constantly wonders when her big brother is going to come home,” said Joe and Natasha Peppers, the parents of Stewart.

According to their attorney, Russ Greene, a witness came forward, an inmate, who says Peppers was yelling at the jailers then six corrections officers enter the holding area and beat Peppers.

“Actually put him in the restraint chair and from one eye witness they were still assaulting him in the restraint chair and he died right there,” said Greene.

6 News called the Washington County Sheriff's Office. Their attorney referred me to court documents for a response. They say reasonable force was used to control and restrain Peppers. A grand jury cleared the sheriff and corrections officers and the autopsy report states the cause of death as excited delirium, a condition caused when some drugs are combined.

It’s a result Greene doesn't believe.

“Excited delirium is a phrase that has been going around the law enforcement community to defend them from these types of deaths,” said Greene.

Five inmates died at the Washington County jail last year. The DA has said there was no wrong doing in any of those cases. The Peppers' family doesn't agree.

“I’d like to have this hopefully prevent somebody else's mother, father, daughter, child from having this happen to them,” said Joe Peppers.

Greene says he has a pathologist reviewing the autopsy results. He believes eye witness testimony will prove the officers beat peppers to death. Again the grand jury found no criminal activity when presented evidence. Greene says the assault occurred in a section of the jail where cameras do not record video.

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