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Billy Joe Rogers
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Autopsy findings for Billy Joe Rogers

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The family of Billy Joe Rogers say they've waited too long to find out why he died after a fight in the Bradley County Jail.

Jailers found Rogers, 39, unresponsive after a fight with another inmate on April 28, and the Bradley County Sheriff's Office announced he died at Erlanger hospital three days later. He was in jail because he failed to appear in Criminal Court on three charges of "dog at large (serious bodily injury)" dating back to May 2015.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has opened, but not yet closed, a case on the matter. It is standard procedure for the TBI to investigate deaths of inmates in jail custody.

On Thursday, the family stood on the steps of the Bradley County Courthouse with attorney John Wolfe, begging authorities for information.

"We just want justice for Billy," Ann Cloer, one of Rogers' sisters, said.

The only official answers they have received so far have come from her brother's autopsy, performed by the Hamilton County medical examiner in May.

"Manner of death is homicide," according to the autopsy's narrative of findings, which attribute the cause of death to a ruptured blood vessel due to "blunt force injuries of head."

Laura A. Wittmaier, director of the Bradley County Medical Examiner's Office, discussed the findings in a phone interview.

"The deceased had a weakened area of the carotid artery, which ruptured as a result of the altercation," Wittmaier said.

Steve Crump, attorney general for the 10th Judicial District, said he expects the investigation will be completed very soon.

The family said they could not understand why they have had to wait eight months to get answers when a TBI investigation into a more recent inmate death already has resulted in indictments.

Last week, three former jailers were booked on official misconduct charges stemming from the Sept. 18 hanging death of inmate Ralph Nelms, 41. One officer also was charged with tampering with evidence and tampering with governmental records.

"The investigation remains an active and ongoing one," Susan Niland, TBI public information officer, said in an email about Rogers' case. "As with any case we've been requested to investigate, we provide information from the investigation to the District Attorney General's office, and upon completion of our investigation, that office will review the case file. Since this remains an open and active investigation, we can't speak to any case specifics at this stage."

Family members also said Crump and Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson will not speak or meet with them.

Crump said he was not aware of the family contacting his office previously, but since has reached out to them in response to a call received from Maggie Rogers, another one of the victim's sisters.

Wolfe took a poke at Watson, asking why he couldn't meet with the Rogers family when he has time to sell cars on the side.

Lt. James Bradford, spokesman for the sheriff's office, issued a statement referring all questions to the TBI, citing the exclusive and independent nature of the agency's investigation.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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