Watching the Watchmen Leave
Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat "accepted the resignations" of three senior staff at the jail. We are still scratching the surface of the problem.
Late Friday night, a video clip began circulating on social media, titled “We broke out we FREE,” depicting two men in what looks like the parking lot of the Fulton County jail.
I sent an email to the Fulton County sheriff’s office on Saturday. Their communications staff has increasingly done its best to ignore my requests for information, and I have yet to hear from them. So I was unsurprised when a press release went out yesterday that I only heard about secondhand instead of getting it in a normal distribution with other media.
(Sheriff Labat informed me shortly after posting this that the men were in Wheeler County.)
Three senior jailers were allowed to resign over the weekend: chief jailer John Jackson, assistant chief jailer Derrick Singleton and assistant chief jailer for criminal investigations Adam Lee III.
Jackson had worked with Labat at the Atlanta city jail. Lee is a retired Atlanta police major. Singleton has been with the department for at least six years. “When leveraged at its very best, that experience can be invaluable,” Labat said in the prepared statement. “However, it can also lend itself to complacency, stagnation & settling for the status quo. It’s clear to me that it’s time, past time, to clean house.”
The department is also looking for a new medical services vendor “that can effectively, consistently and compassionately deliver the best standard of care.”
Labat offered his “sincere condolences to the family of Mr. LaShawn Thompson. … 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.”
Attorneys for Thompson describe him as having been bitten to death or exsanguinated by insects.
On Sept. 13, 2022, Thompson was found dead in his cell. Thompson had experienced serious and persistent mental illness and was homeless when arrested for spitting on a Georgia Tech cop last year. Three months later — and mere days after the third delayed competency hearing — Thompson was face down in the toilet, in his own waste, covered with lice and bed bugs.
Jeana Andrews was the deputy warden who first discovered Thompson’s body, around 1:46 a.m. that Tuesday morning.
Andrews was dismissed from the sheriff’s office a few months later for unrelated misconduct.
The 35-year-old man’s cause of death was undetermined, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s official report.
“No clear cause of death is established,” the report says. “Rarely severe lice infestation can result in clinically significant anemia which is not easily diagnosed at autopsy and impossible to quantify accurately. A severe case of lice related anemia included a hematocrit of 12% and tachycardia requiring a couple units of transfused blood. This was after chronic lice infestation for long periods of time and the mechanism was iron deficiency rather than simply chronic exsanguination. It was estimated that 20 ml per month of blood loss can result from heavy lice infestation. For reference, a tube of blood taken in the hospital for routine lab testing is typically up to 10 ml.
In the absence of lice infestation, the death would be attributed to probable cardiac dysrhythmia.”
NaphCare, Fulton county jail’s medical provider, faces a lawsuit following the death of Deion Strayhorn in Gwinnett County jail in 2021. The Birmingham, Ala.-based firm lost a $27 million lawsuit in Spokane, Wash. last year after an inmate died of a ruptured intestine under NaphCare’s watch. Other jails have been dropping their services. NaphCare has not yet returned a request for comment.
15 people died in the custody of the Fulton County sheriff last year. At least two deaths were murders by cellmates experiencing extreme mental health problems who were not segregated in the overcrowded conditions. One man died of a fentanyl overdose after smoking a laced blunt with other prisoners. The pace of deaths dramatically accelerated during the pandemic, exacerbated by staffing shortages of sworn deputies, medical staff and other workers.
But the jail has had broader issues, with several employees dismissed and others arrested for misconduct, including the arrest of former detention officer Reynard Trotman, who is accused of opening cell doors to facilitate the shanking of an inmate. A second detention officer, Kawana Jenkins, was fired and arrested last month after video taken on a contraband cellphone showed her blowing an inmate.
I’ve been saying there’s a problem at the jail for more than a year now. The threat of lawsuits appears to be moving the needle. But the sheriff owes us more transparency about what’s happening here than we’re getting.
Addendum: Labat’s staff communications chief Candace Finethy, in a fairly pointed email, described “multiple irresponsible errors” in this post. “First and foremost, your assumption that a short, dark, and barely visible video on Twitter took place at the Fulton County Jail, based on your personal assumption that it resembled a parking lot is not only wrong, but quite frankly, is lazy journalism. We can assure you that the incident did not occur at the Fulton County Jail. In fact, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office Intel Team determined the incident happened in Wheeler County. The imprudence in which you publish your own version of facts has the potential to lead to a dangerous, false narrative. Additionally, your statement that Mr. Singleton has only worked at FCSO for 6 years is again, inaccurate and incorrect. His tenure at the agency spanned more than 30 years. You were not “removed” from the media distribution list; if you did not receive yesterday’s release, it was not intentional. Thank you for your understanding.”
I’ve about had it with them. Public relations pangolins think if they ignore a request for information, they are somehow “controlling the narrative.” They’re used to journalists who do nothing except report the contents of press releases from police public relations officers. They demand reporters rely entirely and uncritically on material presented by their agencies and will deliberately undermine reporting that challenges it. That’s what you’re seeing here.
I offered the sheriff’s office détente a few months ago when he asked me in person to appear on “The Next Atlanta,” a quarterly show I host on Fox 5. Repeated follow-up requests with his staff were ignored. Literally: the office does not return emails or phone calls. Not for that, nor for breaking news inquiries, nor for clarifications as I review open records act requests. I have in the past year asked for documents and been told they do not exist, which are then miraculously discovered after I find them from a second source.
I can be … prickly. But I had none of these problems with the former communications chief there.
The department is under fire, because reasonable observers can look at a string of jail staff and deputies being fired and arrested, multiple murders, several other deaths that raise serious misconduct questions — how the hell does someone smoke a blunt in jail without the guards doing anything, never mind the fentanyl — the plain failures of physical maintenance and healthcare, without beginning to question leadership at the top.
Sheriff Pat Labat is going to ask Fulton County to build a $2 billion new jail on top of the old one, using assumptions about jail capacity that rely on inflated pandemic arrest numbers and an end to criminal justice reform.
I have to ask right now if there aren’t deeper issues about the administration of the sheriff’s office that should be addressed first.
I can not comprehend the power dynamics of that officer and the prisoner engaging in, um, such conduct.
Anytime a LEO gets fired for misconduct or convicted of any crime (yes including tickets) there should be a place where details are publicly posted. Like, you know, arrest reports in the newspapers?