UPDATE: 1:30 p.m. 7/26: ADDS GBI will investigate Alexander’s death in the Clayton County Jail
UPDATE 11:47 a.m. 7/26: CORRECTS “The Clayton County” to “The Clayton Crescent”; ADDS comment from Gerald Rose; ADDS report did not name correction officers; ADDS Stewart charges
Two weeks after The Clayton Crescent filed an Open Records Request for public records about the stabbing of a mentally ill detainee in the Clayton County Jail, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office has released an incident report indicating that three other detainees were charged with aggravated assault. Since this request was filed, at least two other detainees have died. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation tells The Clayton Crescent that it is investigating one of those deaths and will investigate the other:
Deandre Hart stabbing
Under Georgia’s Open Records Act, initial incident reports and supplementals are not exempt from immediate disclosure during an open investigation. CCSO did not release the requested inmate sheet for the victim, Deandre Hart, whose mother told The Clayton Crescent had suffered serious stab wounds to the face and abdomen during the attack.
However, on July 12, CCSO claimed it could not produce those public records because the investigation was open:
According to the documents provided, the incident report and the incident start and end dates are listed as July 8, 2022 at 00:00:00. The officer making the report is listed as Ronnae Tolbert, badge number 30180. The date the report was printed is listed as July 22, 2022 at 5:02:19 p.m.. The report was uploaded to the Clayton County Open Records portal was July 25, 2022 at 10:25:35 a.m.:
The incident narrative reads, “On July 8, 2022 at approximately 0210 hrs. a Correctional Officer was conducting cell checks in Housing Unit 6 Section 1 when they discovered via the cell window an inmate who appeared to be wounded and surrounded by blood. There were also two inmates who were standing near him with what appeared to be “shanks’ in their hands. The two inmates had shanks wrapped/tied with cloth. Correctional Officers immediately detained the two suspect inmates by placing them in handcuffs and escorted them out of the cell. The victim was given medical treatment and placed in the Infirmary. C.I.D. was notified and the case was turned over to them for further. End. of Report…”
While two inmates were referenced in the written narrative, three were listed as suspects in the report:
- Jalen Bryant Freeman, 21, of Atlanta
- Travaughn L. Gordon, 20, of Fairburn
- Braylen Staples, 21, of Lagrange
All three were charged with aggravated assault, according to the report. As of press time, the charges did not appear in the online Clayton County Criminal Cases Inquiry page.
Neither the corrections officers nor the victim were named in the report, but the Open Records Request that prompted it was for information about Deandre Hart’s stabbing.
Freeman was booked into the Clayton County Jail on August 3, 2021, according to online inmate records. He is being held on sexual battery, possession of a weapon during a crime, possession of a firearm by a felon and first offender on probation, armed robbery, false imprisonment, simple assault, aggravated battery, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was granted $20,000 bond and $2,200 in fees on the simple assault charge.
Gordon’s online jail records show he was booked into the jail on March 18, 2020 and faces 14 counts, including eight counts of participation in criminal gang activity, three counts of armed robbery, and three counts of aggravated assault. He has been granted bond totaling $75,000 on all charges plus $9,300 in fees.
Staples was booked on February 17, according to online jail records, on three counts of possession of a weapon during a crime and one count each of criminal attempt, aggravated battery, and aggravated assault. He was granted a total of $150,000 bond and $16,200 in fees on all counts.
None of the men had been tried or convicted of any of those charges.
Photos for Facebook, not for family
No images are included in the incident report. However, on the day of the incident, CCSO employee Carl Johnson, who says he is Sheriff Victor Hill’s “social media manager,” posted four gruesome images to Facebook, along with accusations that the incident was due to Hill’s being suspended from his official duties pending federal charges of violating detainees’ civil rights under color of law.
One image showed five bloody shanks, wrapped with gauze for handles, as described in the CCSO incident report. However, the victim’s mother, Tisha Hart, told The Clayton Crescent that three separate inmates with no way to speak to each other had told her eight men had jumped her son.
The victim’s mother also complained that she was not allowed to visit her son, nor to see photos of his abdomen and face, which she alleged were severely wounded in the stabbing. Instead, CCSO officials showed her a single cell phone photo of what she described as minor scratches on her son’s back.
Since Hart’s case came to light, the Clayton Crescent also has learned of two alleged deaths in the Clayton County Jail in recent weeks.
Jaylan Goodman found dead in his cell
On July 15, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed that CCSO had requested the day before that the GBI investigate a homicide at the jail. Jarvin Cornelius Wallace, 22, of Atlanta, was charged with felony murder in the death of Jaylan Andrise Goodman, 26, of Jonesboro. Wallace had been granted bond with special conditions in April on one count of entering an automobile. Goodman had been charged with one count of battery-family violence.
According to the GBI, ”Preliminary information indicates that at 8:20 a.m., Goodman was found deceased in his cell as Clayton County jail staff were conducting scheduled rounds. The GBI Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy on Goodman.”
Family learned of Demetrius Alexander’s death through grapevine
Over the weekend, a source told The Clayton Crescent and other news outlets that another detainee, Demetrius Eugene Alexander, allegedly died in the jail on Thursday, July 21. However, according to the source, the family allegedly only learned of his death when another detainee called them the next day. As of Saturday, the source said, CCSO had not yet contacted the family.
Alexander, 43, of Morrow, had been in the jail since July 20. He was being held on a dozen charges, including five counts of felony murder, one count of malice murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count each of armed robbery, criminal attempt, probation violation and firearms possession by a first offender on probation. He had not been tried or convicted of any of those charges.
The GBI had said over the weekend that it was not investigating Alexander’s death; on Tuesday, the GBI told The Clayton Crescent that it would indeed be investigating it. The GBI cannot initiate jail investigations on its own. Only a sheriff, a municipal elected body like a city council, a district attorney, or one of several other officials can ask for the GBI’s help.
Who can ask the GBI to investigate?
- Governing officials of a municipality
- District Attorneys
- Superior Court Judges
- Chief law enforcement officers of any municipality
- Chiefs of county police departments (in counties with population in excess of 100,000)
- Chiefs of regular or volunteer fire departments (in suspected arson cases)
- Governor of Georgia (by directive)
The Clayton Crescent has asked Sheriff Victor Hill’s legal adviser, Alan Parker, for updates on each of the three men’s cases. Hill has a standing policy of refusing comment to the news media, despite receiving a six-figure taxpayer salary as an elected official.
Chaka Stewart died; mom says he allegedly was beaten in jail
Stewart was the subject of a high-profile arrest after he allegedly led law enforcement on a high-speed chase, then ran onto rapper Rick Ross’ property. He also was charged with various counts related to an alleged domestic incident. However, Stewart did not live long enough to stand trial.
TMZ reported that, according to Stewart’s mother, he had called to say “he was being mistreated behind bars. Gordon alleges Stewart said he was being beaten — unclear if he was blaming officials or other folks behind bars — wasn’t allowed to shower and was confined to his cell for 23 hours a day. Gordon also claims one of the deputies told Stewart he’d never be getting out of there … while also asserting Georgia authorities have been ducking her and her inquiries.”
At the time of Stewart’s arrest, the AJC’s Asia Simone Burns reported, CCSO hinted that Hill was a fan of Ross’: “‘Sheriff Victor Hill has enjoyed Ross’ music over the years, but the two did not meet today due to Ross being out of town,’ a spokesman for the sheriff said in a public advisory.”
While more recent social media posts ascribe current jail conditions to Hill’s suspension from office, conditions at the jail came under scrutiny before his indictment in the restraint chair case, particularly during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Regardless of the reasons for any pretrial detainee’s arrest or the seriousness of the charges pending against them, anyone being held in the Clayton County Jail is under the custody and care of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department.
The Georgia Sheriff’s Association notes that each county sheriff is “responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of all inmates…responsible for protecting the rights of his/her inmates…responsible for protecting the physical facilities of the jail itself.”
Jails have a duty to protect detainees. That includes adequate supervision, an objective classification system, and enforcement of inmate rules, as well as administrative segregation. Only jail staff—never other detainees—should ever “be allowed to exercise control or authority over other inmates,” GSA notes, adding, “Allowing inmates to supervise other inmates is both dangerous and illegal.”
In addition, GSA training notes, the First Amendment still applies to those in custody. That includes the right to correspond with family and friends; mail, telephone, and visitation; religious observances and gatherings; respect for the inmate’s beliefs; publishing and receiving printed materials; and media contact.
You can read more about what sheriffs and jail staff can and cannot do in this 2017 Georgia Sheriffs Association training slideshow for chief deputies:
Gerald Rose of the New Order National Human Rights Organization, who has been working with Tisha Hart on Deandre Hart’s case, said, “I’m not surprised because there’s incident after incident going on inside the Clayton County Jail. They might need some outside investigation. They’re having a serious problem.”
Rose acknowledged that “jail is not a hotel. It ain’t supposed to be fun. At the same time, inmates have rights. I have concerns for their security. There’s too much ongoing violence inside the jail. If they’re not being watched the right way, there’s an issue.”
Some people think everyone who gets arrested deserves whatever they get, from public humiliation to beatings to murder while in custody. That idea is based on the false assumption that anyone who is arrested “must have been doing something they shouldn’t have.”
Rose pointed out that “Some inmates are guilty, some inmates are innocent.” Anyone can be arrested on trumped-up or even false charges. That doesn’t mean the person is guilty of those charges. Every single detainee inside the Clayton County Jail is considered innocent of all charges until and unless they are proved guilty in a court of law.
But even those detainees who ultimately are proven guilty in court have the right not to be murdered while in custody awaiting trial.
“No loved one wants to get that phone call,” Rose said.
If you have a tip about conditions at the Clayton County Jail, including current staffing levels, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or write The Clayton Crescent, P.O. Box 1865, Jonesboro, GA 30237.