By Victor Ochieng
A 26-year-old homeless man ended up dead in a New Hampshire jail last Sunday after he failed to raise $100 bail, leading to his lock up.
The New Hampshire Union Leader said that the deceased, Jeffrey Pendleton, was nabbed by officers on Wednesday and charged with marijuana possession.
Pendleton, who’d won a number of legal battles relating to the criminalization of poor people, was found unconscious in his jail cell at Valley Street Jail in Manchester, New Hampshire. Officers reported that Pendleton didn’t show any signs of being “in any form of distress.” So far, the cause of his death hasn’t been established, although an autopsy had been scheduled for Monday. On Tuesday, David Dionne, superintendent of the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections, said that the autopsy report hadn’t been released.
Regardless of the cause of his death, Pendleton’s death shows how the criminal justice system is biased against defendants of lowly means, a concern the deceased had been fighting against a few years prior to his death.
It wasn’t his first time being locked up at the Valley Street Jail. Back in 2014, Pendleton was arrested by officers and charged with criminal trespassing after he was found walking through a park. In that case too, his bail was $100 and he was unable to raise it seeing him spend over a month in jail before the hearing date.
With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, Pendleton later filed a lawsuit against Nashua city, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested in a protected area. According to the police, however, Pendleton’s act was in violation of a “no trespass” order previously issued on the area nearby the Nashua Public Library. The charges against him were later dropped and the city eventually agreed to give $15,000 in settlement for Pendleton’s civil claim.
After a few months, Pendleton sued Hudson town for interfering with peaceful panhandlers by citing restrictions not contained in the books. At the end of it, Hudson agreed to part with $37,500 in settlement of the civil suit. Nothing has been published on the amount Pendleton actually received from these lawsuits, or even whether he was even able to have access to it.
According to Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director of ACLU of New Hampshire, who represented the 26-year-old in both cases, said Pendleton didn’t get “involved in these cases not because he thought he would obtain some sort of financial windfall, but because he believed these cases could bring relief to other poor people who were struggling to get by and who were having interactions with law enforcement.” Bissonnette goes on to say that his former client “cared about how the cases that we were handling could potentially change police practices in the future.”
Bissonnette is hoping that the authorities will carry out thorough investigations to establish the cause of Pendleton’s death.