Things to know about the case of Missouri prison guards charged with murder in death of a Black man

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Five prison guards have been charged in the December death of a Black man who was pepper sprayed, had his face covered with a mask and was left in a position that caused him to suffocate while in custody at a correctional facility.

The charges, announced on Friday, stem from a violent series of events that took place on December 2023 at the Jefferson City Correctional Center. Othel Moore Jr., 38, the man who died, fell victim to “a system, pattern and practice of racist and unconstitutional abuse in the Missouri Department of Corrections,” his attorneys said as they filed a wrongful death lawsuit after the former guards were indicted.

The Missouri Department of Corrections released a statement saying it cooperated with the Cole County Sheriff's Department's investigation and has made policy changes since Moore's death.

Here are a few things to know about what happened to Moore, who he was, who has been implicated in his death and the restraint system prison officials stopped using after the episode.


A group of guards making up the Department of Corrections Emergency Response Team was sweeping one of the housing units for contraband on Dec. 8, 2023, when the guards entered Moore's cell, court records say.

After Moore was searched and stripped down to his boxer shorts inside his cell, he was handcuffed behind his back and led outside. Guards told him to face the wall. Moore showed no aggression during the process and was complying with orders, a probable cause statement from deputies says.

While standing handcuffed just outside his cell door, Moore was pepper sprayed, then put in a spit hood, leg wrap and restraint chair, according to a news release from Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Locke Thompson.

Moore was then moved to a separate housing unit, where he was left in a locked cell in the hood, wrap and chair for 30 minutes, according to Thompson and the probable cause statements. Thompson said multiple people heard Moore saying he couldn’t breathe and that the events were captured on the prison’s video surveillance system.

Moore was eventually taken to a hospital wing and was pronounced dead. Thompson said the medical examiner ruled Moore’s cause of death was from positional asphyxiation, and his death was listed as a homicide.


Moore, who grew up in St. Louis, was serving a 30-year sentence on range of charges, including second-degree domestic assault and first-degree robbery.

Oriel Moore, Othel Moore’s sister, said her family never had a chance to see her brother outside of prison after his childhood, adding to their heartbreak. He was looking forward to his release, with the hopes opening a business and spending more time with family, she said.


The complaint charges Justin Leggins, Jacob Case, Aaron Brown and Gregory Varner each with one count of second-degree murder and with one count of being an accessory to second-degree assault. A fifth guard, Bryanne Bradshaw, is charged with one count of accessory to involuntary manslaughter.

The Missouri Department of Corrections said it cooperated with the law enforcement investigation into Moore's death and conducted a separate internal probe. As a result of the investigations, 10 people involved in the episode are no longer employed by the department or its contractors, the department said. The prison's former warden is among those who was fired, according to Andrew Stroth, an attorney for Moore's family.

Thompson said all five defendants are jailed. Multiple phone calls and messages to numbers associated with the defendants and potential relatives have not been returned. Thompson said Case is the only one with a lawyer so far, but Thompson could not identify the attorney.


The Missouri Department of Corrections released a statement Friday saying Moore died in a restraint device designed to prevent injury to himself and others, and that the department has discontinued using that system. But is unclear whether complications with the restraint device were the leading factor in Moore's death.

Charles Hammond, the CEO of Safe Restraints Inc., the maker of the WRAP device, said Friday that the prison had used it since 2021, and that his company also made the cart that allows people restrained in the device to sit up and be transported -- “it’s like sitting in a hammock on wheels.”

He said he had not seen video of the death and could not comment on what happened, but he has learned that Missouri prisons have paused their use of the WRAP in recent months. He strongly defended the WRAP’s track record, saying the restraint system is used often and has never caused a death when used properly.

The restraint allows officers to end fights faster and avoid having to hold combative people face-down, which can interfere with breathing, he said. Hammond said the company’s trainers had flown to Missouri twice in recent years to train prison employees on proper usage.

An AP investigation into lethal restraint used by law enforcement documented dozens of deaths between 2012 and 2021 in which officers had put someone in a spit mask or hood before they died. But those devices were rarely listed as a cause or contributing factor in the deaths.


Associated Press writer Ryan J. Foley contributed to this report from Iowa City, Iowa