JACKSON – Deputy Warden Georgia Shelby knows firsthand what it’s like to be assaulted by an inmate and then see that inmate prosecuted and sentenced.
Two years ago, she was punched in the face by an inmate at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF). The inmate was convicted of assaulting her and another officer in the same incident, but appealed. Recently, the Mississippi Court of Appeals upheld that conviction.
“He didn’t get away with what he did,” Shelby said, referring to the favorable ruling handed down in October in the case of Jemarcus Curry, AKA Jermarcus Curry v. State of Mississippi.
The court added 10 years to Curry’s time in prison after a jury convicted him of two counts of simple assault on a law enforcement officer. He was already serving seven years for two drug-related crimes in Warren County.
Shelby, a captain and 19-year-officer when the assault occurred, said she was somewhat angry about having to go to court and testify about her actions that day.
“In my 19 years, I never had to go before anybody about any offender that I had allegedly assaulted or mistreated,” she said. “I always followed policies and procedure… I know how to talk (to) offenders when they get aggressive. I know how to calm them down.”
With the court siding with the officers, she said, “This sends a message to the rest of the offenders that any time you assault a staff member, you can go to trial for what you did.”
Shelby talks about the assault and working at MDOC in a video included with this statement.
These days, Shelby said, officers encounter at least one or two aggressive inmates each day at CMCF, where she still works.
She, however, was not expecting to fight possibly for her life when she started her shift on June 20, 2014.
About 7:30 a.m. that day, she heard a lot of commotion in the hallway as she stopped by the control room to put up keys on her way to her office. Coming out, she saw about 40 to 50 inmates gathered and asked them to face the wall. All obeyed, except Curry and another inmate at the front of the line. She repeated her order. The second inmate half turned but Curry still ignored her.
Having taught other officers about how not to confront an inmate in a crowd, Shelby, a member of the Emergency Response Team, said she tapped Curry on the shoulder and told him to go over to the wall. She was unaware of his prison record, which includes multiple infractions for aggressive behavior toward staff.
“He started swearing at me, telling me ‘You don’t tell me what to do, and ‘Don’t touch me (expletive).’ As I turned around to tell him ‘You need to calm….’, before I could say ‘calm down’, he hit me in my face and broke my glasses.”
She then had to use all the defensive training she had learned and taught. Curry was taller and weighed more than she did. She defended herself.
“He was steady swinging,” she said. “Then he fell on the kitchen table. He kept swinging and hitting me, and I was punching. I couldn’t let him up. If I had let him up he would have literally killed me or tried to really hurt me.”
Shelby suffered a contusion to her forehead and bruising on her shins and thighs.
Lt. Leon Shields, another officer who had come to assist her in clearing the hallway, was struck in the eye.
A third officer in the control room that day said she saw another inmate hitting Shelby in the back as Shelby and Curry were fighting, but because Shelby neither witnessed nor felt the other inmate’s punches, she said, that inmate was not prosecuted.
Shelby was off work for about a month and never thought about quitting over the assault. “I wasn’t going to let one particular inmate ruined my career,” she said.
She has since been promoted to her current position where she works in administrative segregation with nearly 1,000 inmates who have behavioral issues. She marked 21 years with MDOC as of Sept. 5.
“I think we should be looked at as the highest standard of law enforcement because of what we have to deal with,” Shelby said. “We are not respected as correctional officers.”
Shelby knows the assault she survived could have been much worse, considering the number of inmates around her as she and Curry scuffled that day.
“That guy fought until the end,” Shelby said. “It was a situation that could have turned deadly.”
Video by Jasmine C. Cole, MDOC Office of Communications