An investigation has been launched after a 26-year-old homeless man, who successfully sued police in two New Hampshire counties last year, was found dead in jail on Sunday.
Last week, police arrested JeffreyPendleton for possessing a small amount of cannabis.
Even though the plant is legal in some form in 23 states, Pendleton was jailed after a Nashua District Court judge set his bail at $100, an amount he was unable to raise as a homeless person. He was found dead in his cell just five days later.
“There appeared no indication that Mr. Pendleton was in any form of distress,” said Superintendent David Dionne. The Manchester police are now investigating his death.
An autopsy was scheduled for Monday. However, the results have yet to be released publicly, leaving some questioning the circumstances of his untimely death — especially considering his outstanding history of activism against police abuse of the homeless.
Pendleton is no stranger to police in the area as he had won settlements for civil rights violations from both the Hudson and Nashua police departments last year. Pendleton won a settlement of $7,640 from Hudson after he was unlawfully arrested for standing on public property holding a sign that read, “Homeless and Struggling.”
After that debacle, Nashua paidPendleton $10,315 after he spent 33 days in jail for walking in a park adjacent to the Nashua library after police forbade him to do so.
His death comes exactly one year to the date after Nashua signed the papers agreeing to settle the claims and avoid a suit.
“We will deeply miss Jeff,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire who represented Pendleton in his two cases.
“He knew there were people like him out there having similar interactions with law enforcement,” Bissonnette said. “He wanted change, whether if for a black person or simply a poor person out of work.”
In a statement on Monday, the ACLU referred to Pendleton as a “defender of constitutional rights.”
According to the Union Leader, Pendleton was discovered inside his cell during a head count that takes place during change of shift. Jail officials are reviewing video and speaking to inmates to piece together a timeline of Pendleton’s last hours. He said the door to his jail cell was closed when he was discovered.
This tragic case highlights the immoral nature of the state’s war on drugs. Pendleton had harmed no one, yet he was kidnapped, locked in a cage, and subsequently died without freedom because agents of the state, whose job it is to enforce unjust laws, put him there. Meanwhile, actual crimes continue to go unpursued, uninvestigated, and unsolved — after all, arresting poor people for a plant is far easier and profitable.