Channel 2 Action News gets look inside crumbling Fulton County jail
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office is working to clean up the county’s jail after a mentally ill inmate died following a bedbug infestation in his filthy cell.
Lashawn Thompson, 35, died in September after a 3-month stay at the jail in September 2022. Photos provided by the family’s lawyer show a jail cell in deplorable condition and pictures of Thompson’s body – of his face and torso covered with bugs.
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Thompson was arrested last June for simple battery, a misdemeanor. He had yet to go to trial or be convicted.
After Thompson’s death, Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat asked for the resignation of four top jail officials and approved half a million dollars to address the issues with the vermin infestation.
On Thursday, Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Mark Winne got an exclusive look inside the jail with Labat, who is heading a safety and security audit of the jail.
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The audit revealed flooded cells from burst pipes behind the walls, exposed wiring and crumbling infrastructure, among other problems.
“This unit has people living in it. Living like this,” Labat said. “And these aren’t two-week-old problems. This actually had people that are in our care and custody actually living here.”
Labat said that at one point, the flooding was so bad it was like “we had people walking around like they were in the middle of the Chattahoochee.”
Officials are currently conducting a safety and security audit. New interim chief jailer Curtis Clark said he started his career at the jail, but he’s since worked serving warrants, in internal affairs, training, executive protection and as a bomb tech.
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He said that in this new role, he’s motivated by fighting for those who can’t fend for themselves.
“I never shy away from a challenge,” Clark said. “And I’ll be honest, I had no idea the conditions are what they are.”
The safety and security audit Labat ordered found a hole in a cell wall that connected the cell to the cell next door, posing a major security problem. He said just about every shower in the jail is filthy and there aren’t nearly enough of them.
“We have begun working with the board of commissioners to get the funding to really outline these with better material,” Labat said.
Seventy male inmates have been moved to the Atlanta City Detention Center to free up space, but Labat said they still have as many as 500 people sleeping on the floor.
Former Chief Jailer John Jackson told Channel 2′s Ashli Lincoln that he and two other ranking jail commanders forced to resign recently are not to blame for the conditions of the jail and that he found innovative ways to address them. But funding, overcrowding and low staffing have contributed to deterioration years in the making.
Winne talked to one inmate, who said they found black mold in his cell on Monday and that now, he has respiratory problems.
“Well, we haven’t determined it was black mold but it is certainly filthy,” Labat admitted.
Another inmate said that he has been bitten twice in the groin by some sort of vermin. That inmate was just at the jail for a failure to appear charge because he said they sent his court date to the wrong address.
Labat said that sheer manpower is a big piece of fixing the jail.
“When we make conditions better for the inmates, we make the conditions better for the staff,” Clark said.