Top jail staff forced out after man’s death at Georgia jail

Apr 17, 2023, 3:02 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia sheriff on Monday announced the resignations of top jail staff amid an investigation into the death of a man in a bedbug-infested cell in the jail’s psychiatric wing.

Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said in a news release that the three members of his executive team had more than 65 years of collective experience in law enforcement and running a jail. That kind of experience can be invaluable but can also cause “complacency, stagnation & settling for the status quo,” the release said.

“It’s clear to me that it’s time, past time, to clean house,” Labat said, adding that he decided changes were necessary after reviewing preliminary evidence in the internal investigation into the September death of Lashawn Thompson, 35.

Photos from Thompson’s filthy cell spread across social media last week and prompted widespread outrage, including from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, which tweeted, “the word inhumane doesn’t suffice in describing the way #LashawnThompson’s life was disregarded and degraded in a Fulton County jail.”

At a meeting over the weekend, Labat asked for and received the resignations of the chief jailer, assistant chief jailer and assistant chief jailer in the criminal investigative division, the release said.

A lawyer for Thompson’s family last week said jail staff did nothing to address Thompson’s deteriorating health in the weeks before his death, and he called for a criminal investigation. Thompson was arrested June 12 on a misdemeanor battery charge and was booked into the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, where he died three months later.

Attorney Michael Harper called the conditions at the jail “deplorable,” holding up photos of a dirty, trash-strewn cell that he said was “not fit for a diseased animal.” Photos released by Harper show Thompson’s body covered in bugs. The medical examiner’s report lists the cause of death as “undetermined” but notes a “severe bed bug infestation.”

Nationally known civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump announced Monday that he had been hired to join Harper in representing Thompson’s family.

“It is completely unacceptable to force inmates to live in appalling conditions where they are subjected to insects, grime, and infections. No one should be treated that way. Lashawn and his family deserve full justice for this inhumane treatment,” Crump said in a news release.

The investigations into Thompson’s death — an internal investigation and one by the Atlanta Police Department, which responded after Thompson died — are still underway, the release said. Once they’re done, the results will be turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for review.

“The final investigative report will not ease the family’s grief or bring their loved one back, but it is my hope and expectation that it provides a full, accurate and transparent account of the facts surrounding Mr. Thompson’s death so that it provides all of the answers they are seeking and deserve,” Labat said.

In addition to staffing changes, the sheriff’s office said it is reviewing legal options to change medical vendors, looking to contract with a provider that can “effectively, consistently and compassionately deliver the best standard of care.”

The sheriff’s office said it also spent $500,000 on emergency measures in September to address the infestation of “bed bugs, lice and other vermin.” Additionally, 673 detainees are currently housed in other jails at an average cost of $47,000 a day, and the sheriff’s office continues to try to transfer other detainees out of the jail to further ease crowding, the release said.

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Top jail staff forced out after man’s death at Georgia jail