WASHINGTON, March 19, 2016 — A former inmate in the Tennessee Department of Corrections says he became a whistleblower while in prison and was treated like one. He was nearly killed at one point, but the incident was covered up. Fifteen years later, he is still demanding answers.
James Beasley, now 50, said that in 2000 he was in prisoner serving time for burglary charges in the Hardeman County Correctional Center in Tiptonville, Tennessee. The facility is part of the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
On Jan. 14, 2000, Beasley says he fell off a ladder while doing work for the prisons in a school. As a result of the accident, Beasley told CDN, his left arm was twisted and required a plate. But for months, the Tennessee Department of Corrections refused to allow the necessary medical procedure to install the plate.
In late fall 2000, acting pro se, Beasley filed a $500,000 suit in federal court.
Several days after filing the suit, Beasley says he was approached on the prison yard by a friend, Al Lyons Jr., who told him that the powers that be had arranged for another inmate, Lawrence McKinney, to have a free shot at Beasley to try to kill him.
Days later, Beasley says he was moved from the area of the prison where he was housed, F pod, to G pod, where McKinney was also housed.
“You trying to kill me,” Beasley recalls he quickly complained to the prison official, Ms. Boyett, who ran that pod.
McKinney is not to be confused with another famous Lawrence McKinney who served time in Tennessee. That McKinney, then 22, was convicted in 1978 for a 1977 rape. He was exonerated after blood evidence found three sets of DNA, none of which were his.
McKinney was released from prison in 2009.
This Lawrence McKinney was convicted of attempted first degree murder, which was considered an “especially aggravated assault and a “hate crime” according to an affidavit filed by Beasley with the TDC in 2004.
A few days after he was moved into G pod, Beasley says he was attacked by McKinney with a homemade knife soon after Beasley entered his room.
According to an intake form from the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, where Beasley was taken after being attacked,
“This is a 35 year old make inmate who was assaulted by another inmate, receiving multiple stab wounds.”
But Beasley says the incident was covered up. McKinney was transferred to another prison and the incident was ignored, except for numerous requests for an investigation from Beasley.
In 2004, while still in prison, Beasley wrote to the TDC Commissioner Quenton White:
“This is a problem that started on or about the month of December, the year of 2000, and has subsequently lead (sic) to the demise of my health, and has already come close to costing me my life.”
A phone call and email to Neysa Taylor, communications officer for the Tennessee Department of Corrections, were not returned. A call to the prison where Beasley was housed was also not returned.
Beasley says he still has not seen any relief and believes he should be compensated.
More recently, Joree Brownlow, who also represented two other whistleblowers featured in CDN stories—Emmanuel Bellamy and Sean Higgins—took on his case and has filed a complaint with the Tennessee Treasury Department’s Division of Claim Administration.
A call to that office was not returned. Brownlow was out of the office on personal leave and did not respond to a phone call for comment.