Jailhouse Blues

Arrested for nothing, Amanda Jessup spiraled out of control in county lockup.

A bouncing basketball triggered Amanda Jessup's descent into hell. On March 31, 2004, the carefree and casual 18-year-old and a 22-year-old friend, Karl Casebeer, watched television and smoked cigarettes at the young man's South Miami home. Then they went outside and chatted while he bounced a ball in his driveway and the street.

About 2:45 a.m., South Miami Police Officer Maximilian Valdes pulled up, his patrol car's lights flashing. There had been a report of a stolen basketball, he said, and he began asking Casebeer questions.

Amanda intervened. Her friend had not stolen a ball, she said. "This is ridiculous," she added before urging her buddy not to reply.

The cop ordered Amanda to step back. She refused and also declined to give her name.

After cuffing Amanda for resisting without violence, Valdes headed for the police station. On the way, Amanda twisted her hands to the front, opened the Plexiglas panel, and demanded the cop's cell phone.

"I thought I was going to Hell," she would say later in court papers. "I was in the back of the car, praying. I, like, snapped... I started just not, like, really knowing what was going on."

In the cop shop's parking lot, Valdes tried to pull Amanda out of the car. But she held onto a seat belt and wouldn't budge. A female officer attempted to help, but the two couldn't pull her away. So Valdes pepper-sprayed the teenager, whose only previous brush with the law was an arrest for tobacco possession a couple of years before. She began to sob.

Valdes then learned he couldn't take Amanda to the county jail because it was on lockdown. So she was transported to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Northwest Miami-Dade. She was booked around 9 a.m., strip-searched, and put in a cell. Police added a charge of resisting with violence.

Soon, Amanda, an upper-middle-class girl who had no history of mental illness, took off her clothes and began chanting and praying. About 11:30 a.m., a social worker ordered her placed on suicide watch. She was then transferred to the Women's Detention Center on NW Seventh Avenue at 14th Street.

There, Amanda smeared her menstrual blood in the form of a cross on a window. She also rubbed her feces across the cell, bathed herself with toilet water, and repeatedly banged her head against a wall. At one point, she wrote, "Help me," in her own blood.

Jail personnel ignored her, according to a federal lawsuit filed on her behalf in June 2008. They also paid no mind to pleas from other inmates to help Amanda. The lawsuit against Miami-Dade County, South Miami, two police officers, and two jail guards charges false arrest, excessive force, battery, negligence, deliberate indifference, and infliction of emotional harm.

Since the episode, Amanda has not been able to hold a steady job because, she told attorneys, she is overwhelmed by anxiety, fear, and stress for which she has been hospitalized and prescribed antidepressants. "I can't earn a living," she says.

"Amanda nearly died as a result of the actions of all the parties in this disaster waiting to happen," says John de Leon, one of Amanda's attorneys and vice president of the Miami chapter of the ACLU. "The guards did nothing to try to help Amanda. But for the actions of the parties here, Amanda's life would not have been put in danger. Her life has been forever devastated."

Until the ordeal, Amanda was simply an angst-ridden teenager struggling to find her identity. She had problems, but none of the magnitude that followed. Raised by her mother, Elizabeth Jordan, she was a below-average student at Miami Palmetto Senior High, where she received Cs in most classes and an F in math. The school suspended her once for violating the dress code and smoking. After a teacher recommended she attend a smaller school, Amanda transferred to Ace Academy in Coral Gables, where her mother was a teacher. She did well but left after an arrest for tobacco possession. She transferred to the School of Applied Technology in Allapattah and then dropped out.

She experimented with marijuana and cocaine, but in many ways was a typical young woman, court records show. Just before the arrest, she wrote a note to her mom, apologizing for leaving the house without explanation.

After her arrest and transfer to the women's detention center, Amanda continued to behave for five hours in ways that should have caused the jail staff to respond, her lawyers say. But she received no treatment.

"She just spiraled out of control from sitting there in the middle of this drama," Jordan says. "No matter what, they had a responsibility in that situation, other than sitting there laughing, mocking, and letting somebody deteriorate inside a cell."

About 7:30 p.m., Angela Price, an inmate in an adjacent cell, saw Amanda bang her head against the wall six times, and alerted guards. Price later told investigators a guard yelled back, "She is just crazy." By then, Amanda was bleeding from the nose, mouth, and an ear, according to her lawsuit. About 12 minutes later, two nurses conducting rounds noticed Amanda had hurt herself. Guards handcuffed and shackled Amanda.

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