Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday July 18th 2018

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Outtakes—History Repeats

By Rick Outzen

On Saturday, Feb. 20, I joined the families who lost loved ones in the Escambia County for their silent protest and prayer service, which is the focus of our cover story this week.

Walking Leonard Street in front of the jail, I was reminded of another protest ten years earlier.  A coalition of civil rights organizations and community activists marched for answers in the “mysterious death” of Robert Boggon.

Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Boggon, a 65-year-old long-haul trucker, for becoming disoriented and knocking over boxes at the Dollar Tree store in August 2005. In a confused state, he resisted arrest and was charged with aggravated assault and criminal mischief.

Boggon did not do well in the county jail. His mental health spiraled downward.

He spat on guards and nurses, refused to eat his meals, banged on his cell door and yelled for help repeatedly. He obviously needed psychiatric help. However, the corrections officers repeatedly used a taser gun on him, pepper sprayed him, wrapped pillowcases and towels around his head, and gave him shots of drugs to turn him into a zombie.

After 11 days in the county jail, Boggon was found dead in an infirmary cell, strapped naked to a chair hours after being tasered in the shower.

The October 2005 march was peaceful, but it wasn’t silent. Nearly 200 people walked past the ECSO administrative building and the jail shouting for justice. Sheriff Ron McNesby’s men photographed and videotaped the crowd. He later tried to use the photos to discredit me and force me to fire my editor Duwayne Escobedo.

I refused. When he charged me with being biased against him, I told McNesby to quit killing people and our coverage would change. Two more men died in the 10 months after Boggon’s death. McNesby lost his bid for a third consecutive term two years later.

When I marched this past weekend, the old civil rights groups, We the People Action Committee, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Movement for Change, and ACLU were absent. This march was more personal, more somber.

The sisters and relatives of Robert Boggon were in the crowd, still looking for answers. A decade after his death, they still were bewildered at how their brother, who was the leader to their family, had died in less than two weeks after being arrested for a minor crime. They still wanted justice.

More than a decade separates the deaths of Boggon and Alfred Wesley, who died Jan. 15. Management has changed. New policies implemented.

Let’s hope we don’t need another march 10 years from now.