1983 jail death listed in complaint to U.N.

A woman whose father died in police custody 26 years ago has helped file a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council against the U.S. Department of Justice for not prosecuting suspects in deaths of people in Chattanooga police custody.

Maxine Cousin's father Wadie Suttles died on Dec. 6, 1983. Official accounts said Mr. Suttles jumped from a bed at the Chattanooga City Jail and struck his head on the concrete floor, which caused brain swelling and later death.

But Mrs. Cousin said in her home Tuesday afternoon that medical reports and investigations show her father was beaten to death, which is why after years of court battles following the death she continues to petition for outside intervention.

PDF: Complaint letter

"People have to face responsibility for what they do," she said.

At the time of his death Mr. Suttles, a black man, was 66 years old.

Lorenzo Ervin, vice president of the Nashville branch of Power to the People, a civil rights advocacy group, filed the complaint with the United Nations in November. He said he learned a month ago that the complaint was put on the council's docket, but he had not received any further information.

Mr. Suttles' death is the detailed case cited in the complaint, but it lists 58 deaths in police custody from over the last 30 years, and 70 percent of the victims were black, according to the letter.

The letter also cites the death of Alonzo Heyward, who was shot 43 times by six Chattanooga police officers on July 18, 2009.

The complaint names now-Assistant Police Chief Mike Williams and former Officer Melvin Carson as responsible for Mr. Suttles' death.

Chief Williams said the case was investigated by the FBI and taken through court and appeals, where no wrongdoing was found. He had no further comment. Mr. Carson could not be reached for comment.

Human Rights Council spokeswoman Claire Kaplun, reached by phone in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, said complaints to the council are confidential.

But, she said, complaints can be filed by individuals or non-government groups, and the complaint then goes to working groups that decide if it is admissible and then move it to the council.

If the council finds sufficient reason to investigate or call for a resolution that would require further action, the complaint is made public through resolution. The next scheduled period for the release of resolutions from the council is June, she said.

Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyar said he could not comment on whether the department had received the complaint.

Also named in the complaint is former Chattanooga Mayor Gene Roberts. Mr. Roberts, reached by phone at his home Tuesday evening, said the death still disturbs him, but he thought the city did all it could to find out what happened.

"It's still a mystery to me and a lot of other people, too," he said. He said the city "exhausted a lot of energy" trying to find out more but, in the end, learned that they knew all they ever would know.

Mrs. Cousin said the FBI investigation wasn't good enough and Mr. Roberts' role as a former FBI agent tainted perceptions of the bureau's work on the case.

She hopes that if the United Nations finds merit in the complaint that might cause the Justice Department to reopen and investigate her father's case and others like it.

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