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After Man Mysteriously Dies in Yazoo County Jail, His Family Seeks Answers

James Robertson smiling
James Robertson was 55 years old when he died in the Yazoo County Jail on Feb. 25, 2023. His family is looking for answers. Photo courtesy Lakeisha Robertson 

Robin Robertson’s father, James Robertson, said he was concerned when she called him from the Yazoo County jail on Friday, Feb. 24. She would never speak with him again; the father of eight children died under unknown circumstances in the jail the next day at 55 years old.

Lakeisha Robertson told the Mississippi Free Press what her sister had shared with her about the last conversation with their father, including that he said there was “a lot of shit going on up in here” and that “these M.F.s was crazy and I’m going to just leave it alone.” She said their father did not elaborate on what he meant or who he was referring to at the time.

The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is examining the circumstances of his death and provided the Mississippi Free Press with a redacted report on March 17. It shows that Yazoo County Sheriff Jake Sheriff called the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to come to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Yazoo City, Miss., after officials discovered Robertson unresponsive at the jail at 11:13 p.m. on Feb. 25.

The last time Lakeisha Robertson saw him was after a short release on Feb. 2 following a seven-month stint in jail for a DUI offense, she told the Mississippi Free Press. She and her siblings previously lost their mother in 2016.

Lakeisha Robertson shared her father’s release paper printout from the Yazoo County Jail, which shows the county released him at 3:35 p.m. on Feb. 3, 2023. James Robertson’s scheduled release was listed as July 22, 2022, the same day Yazoo City Police Department booked him. The document says he was arrested on 1 “count,” but does not cite a crime or a sentence. It lists a $10,000 bond.

Yazoo City Police Department Administrative Assistant Sherry Pittman told the Mississippi Free Press in an email Monday that an officer from the department arrested Robertson in July “for a misdemeanor offense,” and the department released him “within 48 hours.” It was a DUI offense, she explained.

There was no warrant for his crime and that was the last time Mr. Robertson was in our facility,” she said.

A hand holding a print out of inmate release papers for James Robertson
James Robertson’s release paper showed he was booked on July 22, 2022, for an unstated crime. Photo courtesy Lakeisha Robertson

During the seven months James Robertson was in jail previously, Lakeisha Robertson said she could not get any answers for why he was there without being released on bond. Two of James Robertson’s children eventually paid $410 towards his parole on Feb. 2 and “he was let out on time served,” Lakeisha Robertson told the Mississippi Free Press.

“Me and my brother Robert Robertson, we paid the $410 for him to get out, so they released him on time served, and they told him he was free to go. They even let him out of jail and unlocked the gates and everything,” Lakeisha Robertson said. “(But) that evening they called him and told him that he had to turn himself back in, or he would be treated as an escaped convict because they’re basically saying he wasn’t bonded out.”

Yazoo County Undersheriff Terry Gann told the Mississippi Free Press on March 22 that he could not comment on this story and would not respond to Robertson’s daughters’ comments because of MBI’s ongoing investigation.

‘There was Nothing Wrong with Him’

After James Robertson’s release on Feb. 2, Lakeisha Robertson went to see him.

“He seemed normal. There was nothing wrong with him. He had gained a little weight, a couple of pounds. He was brighter,” Robertson’s daughter told the Mississippi Free Press. “They let him out on February the second, and he did turn himself back in on February the sixth because they told him if he did not turn himself in, he would be an escaped convict.”

“He didn’t have any medical problems that we know of,” she added. “When I actually saw his body, his mouth looked kicked in, his face got a big knot on it. His face was swollen and red.”

Man in a blue suit with subtle red pattern and red tie
Robertson family attorney Carlos Moore told the Mississippi Free Press on March 13, 2023, that “it can take as long as two years” to get autopsy results due to a “severe backlog in the state medical examiner’s office.” Photo by Kayode Crown/File

Mississippi Bureau of Investigation agent Willard Holifield responded to a 12:45 a.m. call from Baptist Memorial Hospital in Yazoo City on Feb. 26 and arrived around 1:45 a.m., the MBI report says. It describes the death as an “in-custody jail death investigation” and lists the “time of incident” as 11:13 p.m. on Feb. 25 after a jail officer had found James Robertson unresponsive in a Yazoo County jail cell.

Family attorney Carlos Moore told the Mississippi Free Press on March 13 that he sent a letter of preservation of evidence to the jail authorities.

“So we are awaiting the autopsy report to see what the cause of death is,” Moore said on March 13. “I know the MBI is investigating and so we are just awaiting the result of the autopsy.”

“The family believes that it’s very suspicious, the way he died. We just want to make sure that there was no foul play,” he added. “We really can’t make a determination till we get the result of the autopsy. That’s why we all are waiting.”

He said he does not expect the results to come soon, citing a “severe backlog in the state medical examiner’s office.”

“It can take as long as two years,” he said. On Tuesday, Moore confirmed that the family is still waiting for the autopsy results.

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