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The Death of Jason Toll
Jane Luna is the mother of Jason Toll, the 33 year old man killed by corrections officers during a cell extraction at Riverbend prison here in Nashville on August 17, 2010. The following story is a mother’s description of her son’s death, compiled from numerous viewings of the video of his killing. She transcribed the events of his final moments minute by minute, watching the video in excruciating and prolonged detail. That transcription, with the help of Amanda Haggard, has been turned into narrative. On April 16, 2015, Amanda presented this story at Tenx9 Nashville's storytelling night "I Was in Prison." Amanda Haggard is the Lead Staff Writer with The Contributor, one of America’s leading newspapers on homelessness. She has covered numerous stories on the prison system in Tennessee.
I've never actually been to prison.
The closest I've ever been was while watching a video of my son while he was in prison.
He was actually in prison here in Nashville for just nine months on a parole violation, and the video I'm talking about is one that lasted less than hour. And sure, if you're wondering, I'd been there to visit my son.
I just had never felt like I was in prison myself until I watched him die on that video.
Minute by minute, second by second, this is what MY prison feels like:
At 9:23 p.m., and five seconds: Guards show up to my son's cell for a “cell extraction.” This means he was in trouble, and they wanted him and his things out of his cell at that very moment.
9:24 and five seconds: The camera shows my son blocking the door with his face covered.
9:25 and fifteen seconds: He screams “Let's get it on, goddammit!”
9:25 and fifty seconds: A team of five guards enters.
9:26: Guards scream, “Stop resisting!” I hear a struggle, but I can't see my son. Guards surround him.
9:26 and twenty seconds: For the first time on the video, my son says he can't breathe.
9:26 and thirty-six seconds: A guard says, “Put your arm out or I'll tase you,” and my son says, “I can't, goddammit.”
9:27 and eleven seconds: For the second time, my son says he can't breathe. Guards tell him not to resist. For the third time, he says he can't breathe.
9:28: My son screams for the fourth time that he can't breathe.
9:28 and thirty seconds: A guard says to take everything out of my son's cell, and gives directions to drag my son to the rec yard face down.
The other guards comply.
9:29: My son is turned over on his back, and a guard tasers his stomach.
9:28 and four seconds: For the fifth time, my son says he can't breathe. A guard says, “Yeah, you're not gonna be able to breathe.” My son is asked to flip onto his stomach, and in the process I see his face for the first time.
9:29 and twelve seconds: On his stomach again, he's drug out on his face.
9:29 and thirty seconds: He says for the sixth time he cannot breathe.
9:30 p.m. The video goes dark.
9:30 and twenty-four seconds: My son screams in pain.
9:30 and forty-three seconds: My son says “stop.” And for the seventh time says he can't breathe.
9:30 and forty-nine seconds: Some light shines into the frame and shows a taser shield pressed on the top of my son's head and back.
9:30 and fifty-six seconds: A guard says: stop resisting. My son's body shakes, and he screams out in pain.
9:31 and ten seconds: Taser shield is still pressed on the top of his head. A guard tells him: “There's nothing wrong, Mr. Toll...Calm down, Mr. Toll. We're here to help.” Guards are given direction to strip search my son, and you hear him cry out in pain.
9:31 and twenty-five seconds: The taser shield comes off my son's head.
9:31 and thirty seconds: A guard says they're going to take his restraints off, but that if my son resists, they'll tase him. My son says he understands.
Now might be a good time to tell you that my son had a history of issues with mental health. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, and finally a schizoaffective disorder. He was one of the more than 40 percent of inmates in prisons that suffer from mental illness. He was just 33 years old when he was killed.
At 9:32 and nine seconds: Guards are told to remove all my son's clothes, but his boxers. He remains facedown and completely still as they remove his clothes.
9:32 and thirty-five seconds: My son cries out in pain, and guards tell him to stop resisting.
9:32 and forty-five seconds: A guard says: “Did you forget what I told you? Would you like me to reiterate what I told you?”
9:33 and fifteen seconds: My son sounds like he's snoring. This is the last noise you hear him make on the video.
The snoring noise heard on the video is likely my son slipping into a coma, experts tell my lawyers and the media.
9:34 and twenty-five seconds: A guard says to remove his leg irons, and another says to remove his handcuffs and roll him over.
Two minutes later: My son convulses on the floor.
9:37 and forty seconds: The guards remove my son's silver necklace from around his neck. He's rolled onto his back.
9:38 and fifty seconds: Someone says: “Have medical come here and check him.”
9:39 and three seconds: A nurse says: “Mr. Toll? Mr. Toll? Mr. Toll? Mr. Toll?” You see his face from the side as the nurse checks for his pulse.
9:40 and ten seconds: The nurse begins mouth-to-mouth.
9:41 and twenty seconds: One guard says my son might be dead, and another says “Please don't say that word.”
9:41 and thirty seconds: My son's upper body is moving.
9:42 and thirty-five seconds: A guard says, “You gotta be kiddin' me?!”
9:42 and forty-eight seconds: The nurse is still giving him CPR and asks if they should call an ambulance.
9:43 and ten seconds: A captain comes in and asks: “What happened to him? Did you taser him or what?” Another guard tells the captain my son was never tased.
9:43 and fourteen seconds: The nurse tells the group that my son doesn't have a pulse and is not breathing.
9:43 and twenty-six seconds: The captain asks again what happened, and guards say my son was conscious when they got him into the rec yard.
9:43 and forty-nine seconds: The captain tells his guards to take off their helmets to “breathe.”
9:44 and twenty seconds: They attempt to use a defibrillator machine, but it doesn’t work. They continue CPR on my son.
9:46 and thirty seconds: My son is attached to a breathing machine. You now see a cut on his right temple.
9:47 and twenty-three seconds: They try to use a defibrillator machine again and it doesn’t work.
9:49 and thirty seconds: A guard says: “The inmate was combative when we got through the door.”
9:51 and thirty seconds: They try to use a defibrillator again and it doesn’t work.
9:52 and twenty seconds: A nurse says: It's “a neck injury or something. I don't know.”
9:54 and twenty-nine seconds: You hear the guards say my son was “awake and coherent” when they got there, and that he was a diabetic who took a lot of Tylenol.
9:55 and twenty-one seconds: A guard says: “It's very unfortunate, I think.”
Three more times in the next seven and a half minutes they try the defibrillator machine, and it doesn’t work.
10:08 and thirty-three seconds: Paramedics show up. Guards give this summary: We were “in a cell extraction and he was raising hell in his cell and he walked out there 30 minutes ago and he fell out and he's been out every since.”
10:09 and thirty-five seconds: My son is lifted onto a gurney.
10:11 and twenty seconds: My son is rolled through the prison. Inmates are yelling. The nurse is no longer doing CPR.
10:12: My son is rolled into the ambulance. The doors close.
10:12 and thirty-seven seconds: The tape clicks off.
My son is dead.
I was in prison once.