O’Dee Henderson

Background

O’Dee Henderson was an employee of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Railroad company (TCI). One day, around 7:30 a.m., Henderson allegedly bumped into a fellow TCI employee, M.M. Hagood, on the street in front of the TCI building in Westfield, AL. After Henderson bumped into Hagood, Hagood stopped Officer W.T. Glenn who was on the street when the altercation took place. Hagood told the Officer that Henderson knocked him down to the ground. Before immediately arresting Henderson, Officer Glenn allowed Hagood to beat Henderson on the street as he dragged Henderson into the police car.

Hagood followed Henderson and the officer to the police station. At the station, officers allowed Hagood to continue beating Henderson as Henderson sat on a chair in the jail. Additionally, Officer Thomas Nelson beat Henderson with his black jack while Sergeant W.G. Cook and Officer Glenn watched the beating. Officer Ed Taylor was in an adjoining room while the beating occurred.

D.M. Flourney, a witness to the beating, stood in front of the doorway to the police station as the officers and Hagood repeatedly beat Henderson with a blackjack, a leather strap, and a rubber hosepipe. Flourney heard Henderson say, “let me explain,” and “have mercy on me.” After Officer Nelson and Hagood beat Henderson until his face was swollen, bruised, and unrecognizable, he shot Henderson three times in the chest killing him. The town coroner labeled the death an “unjustifiable homicide.”

In the aftermath of the shooting, a local Methodist minister, Ted Hightower, urged the city council to hold a special meeting to discuss the shooting. Mayor Claude N. Gilley called for the officers to be dismissed from the force and Officer Nelson was suspended for thirty days pending an investigation.

The Fairfield City Council held a meeting to discuss whether all three officers should be dismissed from the police force. During the deliberations, Sergeant W.G. Cook testified that 20 or 30 beatings had taken place at the Fairfield police station in the three years he had been on the force. Despite the history of systemic violence that was exposed, the resolution to dismiss the officers was lost by one vote.

Legal Status

Officer Thomas Nelson was charged with first-degree manslaughter. Attorney A.D. Shores and the local branch of the NAACP fought for justice in Henderson’s case. Officer Nelson testified that he acted in self-defense. The jury found him not guilty.