More than a dozen people gathered in the parking lot of the Bradley County Jail Friday evening in memory of Charlie Stevenson, a 61-year-old inmate who died in police custody on Sept. 10.
While a cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" played on a loudspeaker, friends and family released balloons in honor of Stevenson, whose birthday they said would have been last week.
Tony Wilson, Stevenson's nephew, said his uncle was a family man. The two used to spend many nights together or could be found working on cars. Stevenson spent a lot of time tinkering with cars, especially old Fords.
"He loved Fords," Wilson said.
Stevenson's headstone will feature an engraved picture of a Ford Model-T, Wilson said.
Those gathered wore T-shirts that read "Justice for Charlie" and featured a picture of Stevenson. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the death, which the Bradley County Sheriff's Office first reported as a suicide.
Stevenson was booked on several drug-related charges on Sept. 8, and had a $200,000 bond from the court the morning of the alleged suicide attempt. Officers found Stevenson 40 minutes after an hourly cell check, called 911 and administered first aid and CPR until paramedics arrived six minutes after being notified of the emergency, the sheriff's office said in a media release.
Tiffani Dailey, a founder of Bradley County Incarcerated Resolutions, reminded those gathered that the people who are incarcerated are still people and emphasized Stevenson's death is still being reviewed.
"When people pass away in there, it hurts," Dailey said.
Bradley County Incarcerated Resolutions has hosted a number of events, including protests at the jail, to draw attention to what the group describes as inhumane conditions inside the jail. The Bradley County Sheriff's Office has denied any wrongdoing.
The advocacy group Bradley County Incarcerated Resolutions has started a bail fund for the county and is also looking to start a restorative justice center as a resource for people in the criminal justice system or who are re-entering society, said Jared Boatfield, a member of the group.
"We want to make sure that poor folks who may be going through a tough time have a chance to stop the cycle," he said.
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.