On July 2, 2021, Nelson Walker, 33, walked into a Gulfport store and began suffering from a mental crisis. Nelson called out for his mother, but when Gulfport police arrived, they forcefully subdued Walker and charged him with a robbery and assault on the officers.
Walker has been in Harrison County Detention Center since July 2, 2021, reportedly under heavy sedation, but has not been indicted during more than a year in detention.
“Nelson Walker is being held in legal limbo,” said Steven Harris, whose twin brother was similarly held in jail by Clay County authorities for 11 years without indictment. This case – Harris vs. Clay County – ended in victory for Harris’ brother in the federal circuit court (May 2021) and in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (Aug. 24, 2022).
Harris, founder-director of the Civil Rights New Generation organization, spoke at a rally in Gulfport’s Jones Park Saturday, calling for the immediate release of a mentally incapacitated Nelson Walker from the Harrison County Detention Center.
Cecelia Gibson, the mother of Nelson Walker, said she has been unable to talk to or contact her son since his July 2021 arrest.
“I was told that because Nelson is an adult, I could not act on his behalf,” said Ms. Gibson. “I tried to explain to them that I’m the only one who could possibly tell them exactly what has been going on with Nelson. But neither the judge nor anyone else would listen to me.”
George Walker, Nelson’s 30-year-old brother, says Walker is schizophrenic and bipolar. “Without his medications to keep him regulated,” the brother says, “he does have fits of sadness, anger, rage, and anxiety. It just comes out.
“Yet, they’re holding him as if he is competent enough to know what he has done. But he doesn’t know. If you asked him today, what did he do to be held in custody, he couldn’t tell you. He’s not in a mental state to understand. Because of that, they can’t even hold him.”
Harris points out that the federal appeals court ruled in his family’s favor, saying that if someone is mentally incapable of going through the trial process, they should be committed to a mental care facility or released.
“The commit-or-release rule is fifty years old. The rule has no wiggle room; its line is as bright as they come: An incompetent defendant who has no reasonable expectation of restored competency must be civilly committed or released,” the court of appeals wrote in the August Harris decision.
Nelson falls under the protection of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Harris said.
“Having a psychologist or other medical professional visiting the jails where inmates with mental issues are locked up is not good enough,” he said.
Nelson Walker’s victimization as a mental patient began in May 2013 when he was first arrested on charges of robbery in Gulfport. The police report said Walker entered a Chevron gas station in Gulfport and “threatened the clerk as if he had a weapon.”
“The situation then was very similar to what’s going on now,” said his brother, George.
“They tried to convict him. My mom had to call all over the state to find him. They had shipped him off to different prisons and wouldn’t tell us where they were holding him.”
The judge that was supposed to hear the case declared that Nelson was legally incompetent to understand what was going on.
“That’s how the trial got deferred,” George Walker said. “Mother was able to get him tried back in the Harrison County location where the incident happened.
“That’s when he came before Judge Lisa P. Dodson. She tried to impose a 12-year sentence. This sentencing took place over two years after he had been picked up on the robbery charge.
Medical professionals told Walker’s mother that Nelson should not have been placed in the prison but should be transferred to a mental hospital. The medical people contacted her and asked why was Nelson in prison and why was he even allowed to be tried?
“My mom fought for four years,” said Walker. “He served two years in prison.
“Finally, she was able to get him out of prison. He was in prison for four years but was in on the conviction for only two. They had tried to bring him to trial while he was heavily sedated, and he was not competent to stand trial. His case was declared a mistrial twice because they had brought him to court completely sedated where he didn’t know what was going on.
“He was taken to prison in 2013. Dodson sentenced him in 2016, whereupon he served about two more years. He was released after an outside physician gave him a mental checkup. That physician said, “Without a doubt, Nelson is not capable of understanding his actions or what he had done.” He was placed in the East Mississippi Correctional Facility.
During his last eight months in prison, Nelson was in the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian where up to 1,500 prisoners with serious mental health issues are held.
In 2018, he was released from prison but was placed on probation. He was going to Pine Belt Mental Healthcare each month and was under the care of a physician, to make sure he was taking his medication and that everything was all right with him.
“He was making headway,” said his brother. “But, in late 2020, he decided that he didn’t need to continue the appointments and withdrew from his meds. The more he stayed off his meds, the more erratic was his emotional and mental state. But he never had the intent to harm anyone.”
A close friend of Nelson’s in Gulfport tried to persuade him to go back to Hattiesburg and re-enter the mental healthcare program at Pine Belt, Walker’s brother said.
Nelson suddenly disappeared from the radar screen of his friends and his family.
It was the July 2 , 2021 arrest during his mental crisis inside the Gulfport store that brought events to where they are currently.
The Nelson Walker case has already undergone a few changes that might offer hope to Walker’s family and associates. As of Monday morning, Judge Lisa Dodson is no longer involved with the case, Steven Harris reports.
“The judge who sent Nelson to prison back in 2013 is no longer affiliated with the case,” Harris said. “Now we’ve got another judge. The new judge has said he’s going to schedule another day for Nelson Walker’s hearing, because there isn’t enough evidence to move forward. What does that tell you? There’s not enough evidence. It clearly speaks for itself. They’re just holding him on some botched-up charges. And that’s against the law, which says you must commit or release the mentally disabled who are incapable of understanding why they are being tried in court.”
CALL FOR JUSTICE
Belinda Parker Brown, president of the Slidell, LA based social action group Louisiana United International, Inc., urged the rally to keep their focus on obtaining justice in the current struggle.
“Justice for Nelson Walker is real,” Brown said. “We cannot be silent. We must do something to have our voices heard, no matter what the cost.”
Recalling the wisdom of her grandmother, she said, “If you don’t do something now about wrongdoing, sooner or later, it’s going to knock on your door.”
She stressed the need for people to look beyond their own immediate safety zones and to get involved with the plight of others.
“Some of you standing here today could never imagine that this type of situation would happen to you,” she said. “Selfish attitude. We’ve got to change that – we’ve got to kill that giant. Because if it happened to you, it could happen to me.”
Nitra Sands told of her own experience with Dodson, the same judge who sentenced Nelson Walker to prison. Her son, Shaquil Sands, wound up with a 30-year prison sentence for defending his home against intruders who meant to harm him.
“They came there to start some trouble with my son,” Sands said. “Dodson sentenced Shaquil to 30 years for defending his home.
“My son wanted to speak in court, but she wouldn’t allow him to. If you can’t protect your home, then something is wrong,” she said.
Her son is in the MDOC facility in Meridian and has suffered a lot of tragedy there, she said. He was jumped by two inmates who almost knocked his eye out of its socket. Although he was rushed to the hospital, he remains unable to see with his left eye.