ATLANTA (AP) — A man being held in the psychiatric wing of a Georgia jail died in a filthy cell with a severe bedbug infestation after jail staff did nothing to address his deteriorating health, his family’s lawyer said Thursday.
The lawyer is requesting a criminal investigation.
Lashawn Thompson was arrested June 12 on a misdemeanor charge and was booked into the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, lawyer Michael Harper said during a news conference Thursday that was streamed online. Jail staff placed him in the psychiatric wing after determining he had “mental health issues,” Harper said, adding that Thompson had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Thompson died at the jail three months later.
“This was a deplorable situation. The cell he was in was not fit for a diseased animal,” Harper said, holding up a photos of a cell with a dirty toilet and trash strewn on the floor.
He called for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to open a criminal investigation into Thompson’s death and for the jail to be closed, noting that Sheriff Pat Labat has been calling for a new jail.
A spokesman for Willis said he could not comment on this particular case but said the district attorney’s office does investigate alleged crimes at the jail. In a statement released to WSB-TV, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office extended its condolences to Thompson’s family and said an investigation into his death is underway.
Records received through open records requests show that jail officers and medical staff “saw him deteriorating in the last few weeks before he died. They did nothing to help him,” Harper said
An Atlanta police officer who was called at 4:40 a.m. on Sept. 13 after jail staff found Thompson, 35, unresponsive in his cell tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him, according to a report from the county medical examiner released by Harper.
“There were no obvious signs of trauma found … The decedent’s body was covered in bed bugs,” the report says, listing his cause of death as “undetermined.”
“The ongoing investigation is examining details regarding the medical care provided and ultimately will determine whether any criminal charges are warranted in this case,” the sheriff’s office statement says. “The health, well-being and security of inmates in our care is our top priority. It’s no secret that the dilapidated and rapidly eroding conditions of the current facility make it incredibly difficult to meet the goal of providing a clean, well-maintained and healthy environment for all inmates and staff.”
For that reason, the sheriff has called for the construction of a new jail “which will provide an elite level of care, mental health services, security and cleanliness,” the statement says.
Immediate steps were taken as a result of the investigation, including the spending of $500,000 to address the infestation of “bed bugs, lice and other vermin,” cleaning operations to target communicable diseases and updating protocols for security rounds to include addressing sanitary conditions, according to the statement.