MANCHESTER – On March 24th, several liberty activists joined forces with local Fight for 15 activists to protest a prison death at the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections aka the Valley Street Jail. Fight for 15 participant Jeffrey Pendleton, a homeless man employed at Burger King in Nashua, had died in custody in the jail on the afternoon of March 20th. While divided on economic policy, both groups of activists were united in demanding an explanation as to how a healthy 26-year-old could die inexplicably in the Manchester jail.
Pendleton had been arrested for marijuana possession and for unpaid court fines and failure to appear in court.
Around 20 activists, both Fight for 15 participants and Free State Project participants, gathered in front of the jail at 445 Willow St at 2:30PM on March 24th. New Hampshire State Representative Elizabeth Edwards (D), representing Manchester’s Ward 4, also participated.
According to protester Matthew Richards, a member of Occupy New Hampshire:
We got a good turnout of people at Valley Street Jail demanding answers and investigations into Jeffrey Pendleton’s death two weeks ago. Some reporters, too. We marched to the front of the jail and demanded to speak to officials about the circumstances of his death, which they denied. We stood in the front of the jail chanting and yelling through the bullhorn for 20 minutes, and the inmates could hear us and they were banging on the windows of their cells with us! Eventually I guess the inmates were causing such a disturbance that they agreed to send a correction officer out to talk to us. He refused to comment on the nature of the case, and he even refused to confirm or deny whether there was an ongoing investigation into Jeffery’s death. He told us to “call back Monday”, though. Then we went around the prison chanting “We’ll be back!” and more inmates joined in the banging.
I was incredibly moved by inmates joining us and feeling like someone gave a shit whether they lived or died. I hope between protesters, the media, and the inmates themselves it’ll keep putting pressure on the staff of Valley St.
Fight for 15 is a national movement pushing to raise the minimum wage for McDonald’s employees to $15. While liberty activists don’t support minimum wage laws, which have been shown time and again to hurt those they’re trying to help, they strongly support police accountability and an end to jailing people for nonviolent, victimless crimes.
According to the Union Leader, “A subsequent autopsy shed no light on the cause of Pendleton’s death, and the state’s deputy medical examiner has ordered toxicology tests, which will take several weeks. Dr. Jennie Duval has said that Pendleton, 26, appeared healthy, and his body showed no signs of disease, needle marks or physical injury.”
In an earlier article, the Union Leader had pointed out that Pendleton’s death occurred one day before the U.S. justice department wrote state judges across the country about how the poor are treated in courts. The letter raises issues with court fees, fines and the use of cash bail to incarcerate defendants. In the letter, the Justice Department said that bail practices that result in incarceration based on poverty violate the 14th Amendment.
Pendleton had previously worked with the New Hampshire ACLU to successfully sue the Hudson and Nashua police departments over arrests dealing with panhandling and vagrancy. Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLUNH, spoke highly of Pendleton, describing him as “kind and soft-spoken”. According to the lawsuit, the homeless Pendleton was not on government assistance, and used the proceeds of his panhandling for food and shelter.
Valley Street Jail, nicknamed “the Hole”, was previously listed as a defendant in a $25 million 2014 lawsuit after Manchester resident Fern Ornelas became paralyzed while in custody in October 2013.
Pendleton’s family is running a GoFundMe to raise funds to have his body transported home to Arkansas for burial. According to an update posted on the fundraiser, “His body has been viewed by a second source and we have found that we were lied to by the medical examiner in New Hampshire as well as the jail.”
Manchester police have stated that “the investigation into Pendleton’s death remains active, and they have nothing further to say.”