Over the course of four days, two people have died while in the custody of the sheriff while being held in the Racine, Wisconsin, county jail. Ronquale Ditello-Scott Jr. died due to medical negligence by facility staff after being arrested on the morning of May 29 for possible DWI. Malcom James was also arrested the same morning for calling 911 during a mental health crisis. He was charged with recklessly endangering safety due to his erratic behavior and was found dead in his cell due to blunt force trauma to his head on June 1.
The sheriff’s office is claiming to be in the process of conducting an internal investigation, with “independent” investigators from the equally murderous Kenosha County Sheriff’s department overseeing the process. Despite these claims of transparency and independent oversight, Sherry James, Malcolm James’ mother, told Liberation News, “I still haven’t received a visit or a phone call from the Racine County Sheriff’s Department with information about Malcom’s death.” The Racine County Sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for information on whether they had been in contact with Sherry James or other members of the James family.
On June 6, the families of Ditello-Scott and James were brought together by a broad coalition of Racine, Kenosha, Milwaukee and Chicago based organizations including Change is Coming Racine, Black Lives Matter Women of Faith, Black Lives Matter Kenosha, The People’s Revolution of Milwaukee and the Jacob Blake family. Other groups including Los Brown Berets, the Party for Socialism and Liberation-Milwaukee and Wisconsin Bail Out the People turned out to support the event and carry out the families’ wish that the community take to the streets to demand answers and an independent investigation. “We demand justice and have concerns about these facilities out here and we demand justice and have concerns about the police out here,” said Xavier Simmons, a Racine based organizer who helped the Ditello-Scott and James families organize the event.
More than 100 people gathered on the steps of the Racine County Courthouse, directly across from the County Jail, to hear the demands of the families. “I have had to resort to being informed by people in the community, social media and the news. I was informed that my son had been bullied in jail by staff before his life was ended. Imagine being kicked while you are down, dying while you are down. I am Malcolm Isaiah James’ mom, and his life mattered to me … his Black life mattered to me,” said Sherry James.
The sheriff’s office claims that James died from slamming his head against the wall inside his cell, despite being on suicide watch and in a suicide prevention cell, according to MTMJ-TV. However the police scanner and accounts from inside the jail tell a different story. On the same day James died, a report came across the police scanner of a “person unresponsive after being tased” at the Racine County Jail. There are no reports of any other incidents in the facility on that day. According to the sister of James, who has been in contact with people who were also in the jail at the time of the death, “He was maced, tased. They say he pounded his head on the wall but he didn’t do that. That’s my big brother. I know my brother. Everybody out here knows my brother. They tased him and then they said it was because he was big.” Further, she revealed, “The medical examiner told my auntie that he was maced and tased until he wasn’t breathing no more. That’s what happened. And then Tuesday there was something on the scanner that said a person was tased until they weren’t breathing no more.”
In relation to the death of Ditello-Scott, known as Quale, family members at the rally stated that it was obvious that he hadn’t received necessary medical attention and died due to intentional neglect after being pulled over and arrested for a simple DWI. “Quale has a family, he has one child with another on the way. We need him. I just want my cousin back. We need him here with us,” said Tammy Bush, who spoke at the rally, and joined the James family in the fight for justice against the ongoing police violence against inmates in the facility.
“What happened here is a homicide. No question that it was a homicide,” said Kevin McCartney, who is representing both families in their pursuit of information about the deaths of their loved ones. “It was either intentional, they did it on purpose, these individual officers. Or it was negligent because there is no way that two people die in jail on the same weekend. It does not happen unless you are completely inept, which is negligent homicide by the officials, or it was intentional. There is no other way around it. This should not happen. These are young Black men who are dying at the hands of the police unnecessarily. It can’t happen. These are good people. They are being accused of things they didn’t even do. They are being smeared all the way through the papers trying to make up stories that didn’t happen.”
Since the deaths of James and Ditello-Scott, dozens of people have come forward to speak about the inhumane conditions in the Racine County Jail. One Racine based activist, who wished to remain anonymous because of fear of retribution, has had direct experience with the Racine County Jail. The activistl told Liberation News that Sheriff Christopher Schmaling “is uncooperative and not an inclusive or trustworthy official.” The activist went on to say Schmaling was dismissive of accusations that his deputies were racially profiling people, even when presented with evidence that they were, “stopping people of color in particular for parking too close to the curb, dark windows and saying a tail light was burned out when it wasn’t.” These are all too common tactics that often lead to the arbitrary arrest, violence against and death of Black and Brown people at the hands of police. “Everything with [the sheriff] is hush, hush, swept under the rug, and he is not transparent. It appears that this is the way things are being handled at the jail,” the activist said.
Activists from Racine, Kenosha, Milwaukee and across South Eastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois are continuing to rally around the families of Malcolm and Quale, as well as the family of Ty’Rese West, who was killed by Racine County Sheriff’s deputies in June 2019. A justice for Ty’Rese West rally and march will be held on June 14 where the West, James, and Ditello-Scott families will come together to indict the police for their crimes against Black and Brown people.
Feature photo: Families and supporters march to demand answers after Ronquale Ditello-Scott Jr. and Malcolm James die at the Racine County Jail. Liberation photo