Ex-inmate talks about witnessing deadly fight in OPP

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A former Orleans Parish Prison inmate says the prison fight that lead to the death of 40-year-old Willie Lee could have been avoided. Now the head of the City Council Criminal Justice Committee is investigating the case.

Five days after the latest prison death, concerned citizens headed to City Hall to meet with the head of the Criminal Justice Committee.

"We're in a state of crisis," prison reform advocate Gahiji Barrow said. "This is a state of emergency."

Lee died Sunday after a fight in one of the prison tents.

"I was there when the fight had started. I heard the commotion," said a former inmate, who doesn't want to be identified. He was in a bunk near Lee's, when he says Lee began the fight.

"The guy didn't really want to have a fight with Willie," said the inmate, but he said Lee persisted. "The guy just hit him, and once he did, he had Willie dazed up, and he grabbed him and put him in a chokehold, and wrapped his foot around the table for leverage."

The inmate witness said a guard approached, and did nothing.

"He stood there and watched for a couple of minutes, and then a couple of guards came in, and then they said 'let him loose.'"

A former prison guard tells us that the guard who witnessed the fight may have been prohibited from intervening to protect himself. The problem, he said, is that it often takes too long to get another guard on the scene.

"There was a lot of hooping and hollering again, and then the guard was like, 'man you got to hit him with the UFC (wrestling) move,'" the witness said.

Lee was then removed from the area.

"You could tell the smell of mace, and then it was out of eyesight," the witness said.

He said the could have been prevented.

"I think the deputy on watch that was in the tower should have come down long before. He should have separated once he heard there was a conflict going on," the witness said.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman's office says the investigation into Lee's death continues.

The former inmate we spoke with said he and other inmates knew that Lee had died two hours after the fight. Lee's mother says she wasn't told until 12 hours later.

Related Story:

Copyright 2014 WVUE.All rights reserved