Tallahatchie sickle cell patient sent back to prison on faulty charges, mother claims

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Evelyn Washington and son Demarius

A barrage of gunfire rang out on the otherwise quiet streets of small-town Tutwiler at about 1:30 a.m. on July 24, 2021, the officer on patrol reported. At least 15 shots were exchanged between the shooters in two vehicles, with one man reportedly standing outside of one of them while firing.

The Tutwiler police officer, patrolman Edward Williams, gave chase to a black sedan that took off as soon as he approached the scene, distancing itself from the site of gunfire. He lost track of the car. Turning back to the spot of the shooting, he was surprised to see that the second vehicle, a silver Yukon SUV, had also moved. 

Williams reported that early on that Saturday morning, he heard 15 or more gunshots, chased the black car, lost sight of it, and then returned to the intersection where the gunfire had occurred. He said he saw the driver of the silver Yukon walking up to a mobile home near the scene and arrested the man, who he identified as 36-year-old Demaricus Washington.

Demaricus had already been indicted in 2017, pled guilty in 2018, and had been placed on a 7-year post-release supervision and a $1,000 fine in 2018. 

A CLOSER LOOK

Evelyn Washington looks at the crime scene from the vantage point of a background of long experience in criminal investigation and in public health. With a master’s degree in community development and currently nearing the completion of her studies for a PhD in public health, the 59-year-old mother is passionately involved with the July 24 arrest in Tutwiler. 

She grew up in Tutwiler, although she currently lives in the town of Rome. Most important, however, is that the only suspect arrested in the incident is her son, Demarius (listed in police files as Demaricus) Washington, now 37, a lifelong sufferer of the sickle cell disability.

“He had done time on that felony and was on paper,” said his mother. “He was on paper when they brought this back up. Now, they’ve revoked his release and sent him back to Parchman, and right now, he’s looking at doing 7 years because of the incident they said occurred in Tutwiler.”

He is scheduled for trial on October 21 on two charges: a felon in possession of a firearm, and the felonious discharge of a firearm. 

Since being sent back to MDOC, her son has been in the hospital, Washington said. 

“He’s had COVID twice. He had suffered from kidney failure. And they sent him to Vicksburg. Then, he couldn’t walk. I know that you can die from kidney failure.”

She said the arresting officer described her son as wearing a baseball cap and a white T-shirt in a poorly lit area while driving the vehicle that was allegedly being shot at. 

“The officer said he thinks he saw another car, but he captured nobody but my son, because he was walking. My son has had a hip replacement and needs another. He walks with a pronounced limp, and it would have been very hard for him to jump in and out a SUV,” she said. “They arrested Demarius and I got him out on bond, but then they bound him over to the grand jury.”

The local authorities moved too hastily, Washington said. 

“Instead of waiting for the grand jury’s decision, they took the paperwork to the Hernando circuit court and revoked his release, saying that he had committed another crime,” she said. “But during the hearing, when they were asked if they had any evidence, all they could say was that the evidence was at the crime lab, still waiting on the crime lab to finish its report.” 

PUTTING ON PRESSURE

Washington says she worked for MDOC 15-and-a-half years as corrections officer, investigator, alcohol and drug counselor, and alcohol and drug coordinator. 

“I had a lot of hats,” she says. 

The arresting officer did not fill out the paperwork correctly, she said. There were gaps and empty spaces that should have been filled in. 

“I was shocked to see that,” she said. “When I filled paperwork out for MDOC, when I was working there, I had all my I’s dotted and T’s crossed and couldn’t leave any gap spaces, or they were going to keep that work out.”

Washington accuses the local police of putting pressure on her son to get him to “snitch” on someone else who was suspected in the case. 

“I think it’s a civil rights matter, because they haven’t shown anything,” she says. “He had never had any parole violations, as far as his parole officer was concerned. I think it was more or less politics. The Tutwiler police wanted him to snitch on another young man that they wanted to arrest.”

She also said that she had been informed that Patrolman Williams was not on the Tutwiler police force when he arrested her son in July 2021. 

Tutwiler Police Chief Marion Bedford denied Mrs. Washington’s accusations, declaring her wrong on both counts. 

“Arresting Officer Edward Williams was employed with the Tutwiler Police Department at the time of the arrest,” Bedford said. “He was not on administrative leave.” 

As for the claim that the police wanted to have Demarius Washington play the role of a snitch, Bedford dismissed the accusation out of hand.

“He (Demarius) claims he didn’t do any shooting, so how could I lean on him about ratting anybody else out when he didn’t do any shooting?” Bedford asked. 

Bedford said he couldn’t discuss any of the details of the case because it is still under investigation and hasn’t gone to court yet.

ADVOCACY 

Washington has been an advocate for some of the people she had encountered during her 15-plus years as a corrections officer, she says with a sense of pride. 

‘I’ve seen these young men from the Mississippi Delta going to prison for little or nothing,” she said. “And this isn’t right. This is not just for my son. But there is a need to get to these other young people before they get into the prison system.

“It’s needed all over. But I know that in these small towns, they don’t record what you said in court. I’ve asked for that court document, too. But they’ll say we don’t have copies of that.” 

Washington has been an advocate for sickle cell patients for most of her son’s life. She is a board member of the Mississippi Sickle Cell Foundation.

Her commitment to the good of her community and the state as a whole was recently acknowledged by several newspapers in Clarksdale and near her home.

“Evelyn Washington is a woman on a Mississippi Mission,” the Clarksdale Press Register extolled her in its February 27, 2022 edition. “Evelyn Washington has spent decades working for the State of Mississippi.” Now, she’s asking her native state to do more. 

“A longtime employee of Coahoma Community College, Washington is the mom of a sickle cell anemia patient, a role that has defined her adult life even more than her years as a state employee. Those years have brought concern over her life span and daily health. They have also brought an awareness of how little Mississippi does for those suffering from the debilitating and disheartening condition.

“Now a doctoral student at Walden University, Washington believes the state and insurance companies can and should do more,” the newspaper said. “But it’s one thing to think that and an entirely different matter to step up and make something happen.”

Her daily confrontation with the sickle cell condition for the 37 years of her son’s life has been a trying ordeal, she said. Now, she has undertaken a challenge that she hopes will shed a new light on the disorder and a greater relief.

“I’m conducting a study of African American sickle cell patients in the Mississippi Delta,” she said. “The goal is to give state leaders a true understanding of how Black people in the Delta suffer more than they should, without the right types of help.” 

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Tallahatchie sickle cell patient sent back to prison on faulty charges, mother claims

By Earnest McBride
August 14, 2022