After eight months, investigation finds Hardeman County inmate was murdered by other inmates

Family says CoreCivic stonewalled information

By: - May 31, 2022 7:01 am
Hardeman County Correctional Facility. (Photo: Tennessee Department of Corrections)

Hardeman County Correctional Facility. (Photo: Tennessee Department of Corrections)

Eight months after his son left a private prison in West Tennessee in a body bag, Eddie Tardy still doesn’t know why.

“He did wrong, and he was in prison for it,” Tardy told the Tennessee Lookout. “He was doing his time. He was telling me he was done (with crime). He was ready to do the right thing. He was going to do music when he got out. But he came home in a box. He never got a chance.”

Tardy has begged for information — from the Hardeman County Correctional Facility and the corporation, CoreCivic, that runs it, from the Tennessee Department of Correction that sent his son there, and from dozens of attorneys he reached out to for help — to no avail.

“I’ve tried and tried,” Tardy said. “The warden called me once but said he couldn’t give me details, never heard from him again. CoreCivic never called me about it. The only call I got from that company was asking for my address to send his belongings. They wouldn’t tell me nothing, absolutely nothing.

“They don’t care,” he said. “They are back to business as usual. I called I don’t how many attorneys trying to get help. I’ve tried and tried. It’s crazy. You don’t go to prison to die.”

It’s only now — thanks to the voluntary efforts of attorney Daniel Horwitz and questions from the Tennessee Lookout — that Tardy is learning his son, 34-year-old Laeddie Coleman, was fatally stabbed by three inmates in a day room at the Hardeman County prison in September 2021.

Laeddie Colemam. (Photo: Mayberry and Sons Funeral Home)
Laeddie Colemam. (Photo: Mayberry and Sons Funeral Home)

Although the slaying was captured on prison video, the inmates remain uncharged, records show.

Contacted May 23 by the Tennessee Lookout, 25th Judicial District Attorney General Mark Davidson said his office had only received a file on the case this week.

“His case will be presented to a grand jury in September,” Davidson said in a statement to the Tennessee Lookout.

CoreCivic did not directly address a laundry list of questions the Tennessee Lookout posed about the slaying and the corporation’s handling of it. Instead, CoreCivic spokesman Ryan Gustin provided a statement Wednesday via email.

“At our facilities, including those in Tennessee, we follow the policies and procedures of our government partners,” Gustin wrote in the statement. “It’s important to note that the Tennessee Department of Correction’s Office of Investigations and Conduct handled the investigation of this incident. Our partners at TDOC were immediately notified.”

TDOC spokeswoman Dorinda Carter echoed Gustin’s statement in a response to the Tennessee Lookout Wednesday.

“The Tennessee Department of Correction’s Office of Investigations and Conduct investigates all serious incidents in TDOC and CoreCivic facilities,” she wrote. “In the event of a homicide or unknown death, our agency contacts the District Attorney and the (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) immediately. The District Attorney determines whether criminal charges are filed.”

Comptroller: CoreCivic, TDOC reporting ‘problematic’

Coleman is at least the fifth inmate to be murdered behind the bars of CoreCivic’s Hardeman County facility since 2014, records show.

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office in a performance audit in 2020 faulted both CoreCivic and TDOC for failing to properly document inmate deaths and identify the causes. Auditors found that TDOC and CoreCivic improperly identified the official cause of death for eight of 38 inmates who died in custody between 2017 and 2019.

“The department’s ability to provide accurate and complete information relating to deaths and other serious incidents is problematic,” the audit stated. “The department did not accurately record inmates’ causes of death in the Tennessee Offender Management Information System, which impacted the accuracy of the death information in the Statistical Abstract.

“Department management did not ensure state and CoreCivic facility staff followed incident reporting policies, entered incident information accurately into TOMIS, and maintained supporting documentation for incidents as required,” the audit continued. “Because state leadership and the public use the information provided by the Department of Correction to draw conclusions about how correctional facilities are operating, it is vital that management ensures that data on incidents, including deaths and other serious incidents, is valid and reliable.

In 2020, an audit by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury faulted both CoreCivic and the Tennessee Department of Correction for failing to properly document inmate deaths and identify the causes. “The department’s ability to provide accurate and complete information relating to deaths and other serious incidents is problematic,” the report stated.

“Department management has a duty to provide a safe environment for staff at its facilities and inmates in its custody,” the audit stated. “Department management must also report complete and accurate information to decision makers.”

A 2019 analysis by the No Exceptions Prison Collective and the Human Rights Defense Center showed the murder rate in the four Tennessee prisons operated by CoreCivic is four times that of TDOC-operated facilities.

In a review of five years of data, the Jackson Sun newspaper reported in 2020 that CoreCivic’s murder rate at its Tennessee prisons was more than double that of TDOC facilities.

Horwitz, the attorney who reached out to help Tardy after learning of Coleman’s slaying, has been battling for years to convince TDOC to abandon its contracts with CoreCivic and said this week Coleman’s slaying is yet another example of widespread problems with the corporation’s management of state prisons.

Daniel Horwitz. (Photo: Submitted)
Daniel Horwitz. (Photo: Submitted)

“It is long past time for the Justice Department to intervene and put an end to CoreCivic’s operation of chronically unsafe prisons in Tennessee,” Horwitz told the Tennessee Lookout. “CoreCivic’s routine non-compliance with basic staffing and safety requirements is widely known, but, unfortunately, the TDOC has demonstrated time and again that it is willing to overlook CoreCivic’s profit-motivated deliberate indifference to inmate health and safety.”

‘I’m sorry to tell you he’s dead’

Records obtained by the Tennessee Lookout show that Coleman, who was serving a sentence for drug-related crimes, was not the first inmate to be attacked in the Hardeman County prison day room on the day of his death.

According to a CoreCivic incident report, inmate Nicholas Tipton launched a surprise attack on inmate Devin Jamison just 15 minutes before Coleman was fatally stabbed.

“Inmate Tipton was seen (on a prison surveillance camera) approaching inmate Jamison from behind (and) started stabbing Jamison in the neck with a sharp pointed homemade weapon,” the report stated. “Tipton stabbed Jamison multiple times, then he ran and locked himself in his cell.”

Three other inmates in the day room — identified in the report as Brian Gallegly, Kellum Williams and David Tackett — carried Jamison “to medical,” according to the report.

As soon as the trio returned to the day room, they launched an attack on Coleman, according to the report.

“Inmate Gallegly, inmate Williams and inmate Tackett took turns stabbing inmate Coleman multiple times,” the report stated. “(Prison video footage showed) blood squirting everywhere as Coleman started to run (toward) the pod door.”

Coleman collapsed at the door and was dead by the time guards arrived, according to the report. Jamison, meanwhile, was taken to a local hospital for treatment and survived his injuries.

Tardy, Coleman’s father, was first notified of his son’s death by a relative.

“She got a call from (an inmate) inside the prison with a cell phone, saying Laeddie was dead,” Tardy said. “I thought that just can’t be true.”

Tardy and his daughter phoned the prison and were connected to a man who identified himself as a chaplain.

“He said, ‘Let me check the computer,’” Tardy recalled. “It took him a while. Finally, he said, ‘I don’t know if I can give you that information.’ I said, ‘Man, I’m his daddy. That’s my son. I want to know.’ He pulled it up on his computer and he said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you he’s dead.’”

The chaplain refused to provide any details, Tardy said.

“I was like in a fog,” Tardy said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

“Did he call out to God?”

As family gathered at Tardy’s home, he sat on his porch, waiting for more information from CoreCivic.

“I waited for hours,” Tardy said. “I don’t know how long. About 9 p.m., I got a call from the warden. He said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you that your son is dead.’ He said he’d let me know more later, but he never did. I never heard another word from the warden.”

Tardy continued to press for information but each time, he said, he was rebuffed.

“I had got in touch with this detective (with TDOC),” he said. “She said, ‘I can’t tell you nothing. I have to turn this over to the district attorney.’”

Tardy began calling attorneys in hopes of finding one who would help him obtain more information. Time and again, Tardy said, he was turned away.

“I called so many people, and they’d say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss, but we can’t do nothing,’” Tardy said.

 Eventually, Horwitz heard about the slaying and reached out to Tardy.

Other people are going to go to prison and the last thing you want to hear is your son got killed there and nobody cares and there’s nothing you can do about it because CoreCivic says they don’t want to talk about it.

– Eddie Tardy, father of Laeddie Coleman

“He found out that no charges had been filed even though they knew who did it,” Tardy said. “The only person who has ever contacted me has been (Horwitz).”

Tardy now knows his son was unarmed, and the attack on him was captured on video. Tardy does not want to see that video.

“I can’t bear that,” Tardy said. “Can you imagine how he felt, nobody to help you and you’re fighting for your life? What was that like? His last breath? Did he call out for his momma? Did he call out for his daddy? Did he call out to God?

“I never heard that boy raise his voice,” Tardy said. “He was always quiet. I never knew him to go around fighting. He was a sweet boy who had his struggles, just like we all do.”

Tardy himself spent time in prison for drug-related crimes and, like his son, made a decision while behind bars to change.

“You think about all the people who went to prison, did their time and never went back,” Tardy said. “Think about the people that went over and over and that one time they say, ‘I’m done.’ That’s what I did. I was going and going and then I was like, ‘I’m done. I ain’t going back.’ I’ve been sober for a while now.

“Laeddie never got that opportunity,” Tardy said. “Why should people care (about his son’s murder)? Other people are going to go to prison and the last thing you want to hear is your son got killed there and nobody cares and there’s nothing you can do about it because CoreCivic says they don’t want to talk about it.

“People don’t want to do something about (injustice) until it happens to them,” Tardy said.

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Jamie Satterfield
Jamie Satterfield

Jamie Satterfield is an investigative journalist with more than 33 years of experience, specializing in legal affairs, policing, public corruption, environmental crime and civil rights violations. Her journalism has been honored as some of the best in the nation, earning recognition from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards, the Green Eyeshade Awards, the Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Managing Editors Association, the First Amendment Center and many other industry organizations. Her work has led to criminal charges against wrongdoers, changes in state law and citations in legal opinions and journals. She was married to the love of her life for 28 years and is now a widow and proud mother of two successful children of good character and work ethic.