Three officials at the Fulton County, Georgia, jail have stepped down amid an investigation into the death of an inmate whose family said was housed in a filthy, bug-infested cell that “was not fit for a diseased animal.”
The Fulton County Jail’s chief jailer and two assistant chief jailers submitted their resignations at the request of Sheriff Patrick “Pat” Labat during an executive staff meeting over the weekend, a statement from the sheriff’s office said without naming them.
“It’s clear to me that it’s time, past time, to clean house,” Labat said in the Monday statement announcing “sweeping changes” at the facility.
The resignations come as the family of Lashawn Thompson demands a criminal investigation into his September 2022 death at the jail in Atlanta and for a new facility to be built.
Thompson’s family said his death was the result of unsanitary conditions at the jail and complications from insect bites. “The cell he was in was not fit for a diseased animal. This is inexcusable and it’s deplorable,” family attorney Michael Harper said at a news conference last week while holding photos that purportedly showed the conditions of Thompson’s jail cell.
“The manner and cause of death was listed as ‘undetermined’ by the county medical examiner. A full investigation was launched into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Thompson’s death,” the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement statement Thursday.
Due to health privacy regulations, the sheriff’s office could not share any information about Thompson’s health condition when he was arrested, “or what decisions he made regarding his right to accept or refuse medical care,” the statement said.
Labat asked for the jail officials’ resignations after reviewing preliminary evidence gathered during the internal investigation, he said in the Monday statement.
“Collectively, the executive team that’s been in place has more than 65 years of jail administration and law enforcement experience. When leveraged at its very best, that experience can be invaluable. However, it can also lend itself to complacency, stagnation & settling for the status quo,” the statement read.
Additionally, the sheriff’s office is “reviewing all legal options to change medical vendors and enter into a new contract with a provider that can effectively, consistently and compassionately deliver the best standard of care,” the statement said.
On Friday, the sheriff’s office said “several immediate actions” had already been taken, including a $500,000 emergency expense “to address the infestation of bed bugs, lice and other vermin” within the jail. A process to transfer more than 600 inmates to other counties “in an effort to help relieve overcrowding, at an average cost of approximately $40K/day,” had also begun, the sheriff’s office said.
Thompson had been at the jail for about three months prior to his death and was housed in the psychiatric wing because he suffered from mental health issues, Harper, the family attorney said. He was being held on a misdemeanor assault charge.
The 35-year-old was born in Winter Haven, Florida, and had been living in Atlanta off and on in recent years, his brother, Brad McCrae, said at the news conference. Thompson loved listening to music and cooking, McCrae said.
When asked by a reporter what he thought when he saw images of his brother’s body and the conditions of his cell, McCrae said, “It was heartbreaking because nobody should be seen like that. Nobody should see that. But the first thing that entered my mind was Emmett Till.”
The internal Office of Professional Standards investigation and one being conducted by the Atlanta Police Department, which was the responding agency, are underway, the sheriff’s office said Monday. “Once those investigations are completed, the full investigative package will be handed over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations for review,” the statement read.
“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 the statement.