Detainees allege corrections officers, others beat Alan Willison
People who have been detained in the Clayton County Jail, as well as relatives of detainees, allege that corrections officers are either beating up pretrial detainees or getting jumped by multiple detainees; that detainees can put in orders for everything from cigarettes at $100 or more a pack to methamphetamine, crack cocaine, and other hard drugs; that contraband in backpacks is tied to sheet and hauled in through broken exterior windows; that gang members and violent detainees are extorting those held on minor charges to put money on their CashApp or commissary accounts; that corrections officers in the control tower take more than 30 minutes to respond in an emergency; and that at least one detainee who did not pay up was beaten, then hogtied and hidden under a bunk for at least two days before corrections officers found him.
The Clayton Crescent spoke extensively with two detainees under the condition that we would not use their names for this story due to concerns for their safety. Both had been held in the jail in recent months and we confirmed their identities through county records. We will call them Detainee 1 and Detainee 2.
Both men alleged that CCSO corrections officers or deputies had beaten Alan Willison severely in the head before Willison died in custody of the jail January 26. The Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office says CCSO stopped cooperating with their office some time ago. On February 14, two weeks after its initial request, the Medical Examiner’s Office filed a mandamus notice against the “Clayton County Sheriff,” demanding that CCSO turn over Willison’s medical and jail records, in Clayton County Superior Court.
Both men told The Clayton Crescent that Willison had had a large knot on his head that would not go down, and that one of his testicles was the size of a baseball.
They also both said a corrections officer named Smart was the same corrections officer who allegedly had beaten Willison. A check of CCSO staff shows a corrections officer by that name at the Clayton County Jail.
One man, Detainee 1, told The Clayton Crescent he was arrested in November over what he says were false charges stemming from a domestic dispute with his wife. The man said he was never indicted on the charges, but that he was denied bond at his first appearance. He eventually was granted bond and has to wear an ankle monitor. Hours after he made bond, he said, the guards at the Clayton County Jail only knew to let him out because he stood outside his cell with his mattress until they noticed.
“You know you’re released when the kiosk shuts down on you,” he said. “It’ll shut you out of the system.”
Detainee 1 said his house was full of legally-owned firearms. “They put me in the car, they were riding me around,” he said. “He didn’t take my side of the story or nothing like that. What he did was he started laughing. He came outside the house with the gun.” He says he was taken to a Clayton County Police Department location on Anvil Block Road, then to “a spot in Riverdale….the sergeant, he pulled up in a white truck—a white guy—and he told him, he said, ‘Charge him with aggravated assault and possession of a machine gun. The machine gun is modified. The gun is modified to be automatic.’ And I’m like, ‘It’s not my gun.’ So he just said, ‘Whatever, you going to jail for it.’
“Then, they put some guy in the car with me, …when we got to the jail, come to find out, they took me to jail ’cause they never searched me, but they say I’m guilty of this stuff right here, they never searched me or none of that and I had a holster, a gun holster on me. Like a holster for a handgun. But you charged me with possession of a rifle. Obviously, I had a handgun.
“My wife had some guns in the house. Because I’m a locksmith, I carry a gun. I carry a gun. I’m not a convicted felon or nothing. So I got a right to carry a gun. Long as the gun’s not stolen, I can be in possession of a gun, as long as it’s not stolen. So I got a right to carry it. But for whatever reason, they lock me up, all this is in my property, they lock me up with a gun holster for a Glock. That would be the gun that I would have had that they found beside me. But they search the house and they found all the guns—every gun they found in that house is clean. Wasn’t no gun stolen or nothing. But they’re either like my wife’s guns, or her brother’s guns, or somebody related to ’em’s guns. But not none of the guns were stolen, so what’s the problem with the guns being in the house?
“So they lock me up and the guards like ‘What?’ ‘Cause they seen the holster. And the officer’s like what in to world?. And I’m like ‘Yeah, ’cause they never searched me.’…That lets you know I coulda went to the jail with a gun on me. ‘Cause they never searched me! So that’s a red flag anyway.
“When I got there, I started meeting people….Eventually we starting being moved around….When I got upstairs, it was a different ballgame than I ever see in my life.”
He had been in Classification for about 24 hours, he said, “before they moved me up there to a regular floor with everybody else. But everybody else had been down in those floors like, weeks and stuff like that, and they was like, ‘Why they move you so fast?’ Said, ‘I don’t know.’ It kind of made me wonder and nervous a little bit, but…
“When I got in Classification, something very disturbing about that,” he said. “That jail. ‘Cause classification is like for the inmates when the inmates first come to jail. Classification should not be as active in Classification as it is upstairs. I got up the stairs and [they’re] active with cell phones and all of that. That classification floor? It’s more knives and shanks and drugs on that floor, I couldn’t believe it. All the doors are broken. Can’t nobody sleep in peace. Anybody can walk in your room at any time and they can’t protect you, they can’t stop it. You just out all day long…you could come out your cell at four, five o’clock in the morning. They can’t make you stay in your cell ’cause their doors can’t lock.”
Detainee 1 said “sometimes one or two” COs would be on the floor where he was, with “probably 30, 40 people in a unit. Still, he said he “never had trouble in the jail. Ain’t nobody ever mess will me. I ain’t had not problems. I had never get touched. Nobody touched me. What happened was…I was just in a situation where because…It’s like this. I came in there, and my charge was aggravated assault and possession of a machine gun. Too many people don’t get locked up for that right there, so you know, it kind of opened up a different door for me with inmates. So for me to get access to drugs and everything like that, it would have been straight normal because, actually, what type of person walking around in here get caught with a machine gun that ain’t in that world? So I’m kind of vulnerable to all kind of information in. And to see stuff.
“And one of the things I seen is inmates coming in there, and what they doing is, the jail is putting inmates —this is what’s causing problems in the jail, this is why people get hurt. They bring the inmates in the jail, and guards are walking to the door, to the dorm door, and they just tell you to go in—they open a door to the dorm and tell you to go find a room. They not assigning you to rooms. They’re just telling you to go to a room. So by you doing that, they’re causing problems. Because some inmates in that room with two people for a long time. And when they try to put a third person in there, that’s when words are exchanged. ‘Naw, you ain’t coming to my room.’ But the guards tell you gotta go in the room anyway. So when the guard leave the room, that’s when stuff happen. They beating people up, making ’em get on the door to leave out the room….They putting people with probation in, people with, like, failure to appears, people with traffic ticket, they locking them all up with murderers and stuff like that. You’re in the dorm with a murderer. And they not classified in the same—like you ain’t classified with your charge. They got violence with people that shouldn’t even be with ’em. And what they doing is becoming targets. Because violent people don’t mess with violent people. But what they do is they prey on people that don’t have violent charges.
“Soon as they come in the jail, they got some boys that go to they cell and tell’ em straight up: ‘Get on the phone right now and call your family.’ If you don’t call your family right now, they gonna beat you. They gonna beat you bad, They gonna beat you till you cave. I ain’t never seen people’s face look like that.”
Detainee 1 said he saw “about five people” take such beatings while he was there.
“And I understand that all this stuff happening in a certain amount of time,” he said. “And I wasn’t there in that jail but 18 days and I witnessed a lot.
“The drug activity in there is so crazy. Certain situations, I done seen certain amount of drugs. I’ve seen drugs. I’ve seen the meth, I’ve seen crack, I seen cocaine, seen weed, seen cigarettes, meth. I’ve seen all kind of shanks and stuff like that. I’ve seen some inmates stabbed up and stuff like that real bad. real bad. I heard one story that some boys upstairs got caught with four pounds of weed, and some cellphones, and some knives. That’s kind of disturbing. I know somebody told me one boy in that jail got a .32 [pistol].”
He knew about the hog-tied inmate.
“Some guys …they said like this guy had snitched on them. something like that,” he said. “It was some kind of gang activity stuff. But they hid him up under the bed for two days and the guards didn’t even notice he was up under there. And they had had this sheet up over him while he was stuck up under the bed hog-tied. And the guards had to come in the room to search for this boy, this one particular person. And so they found him, hog-tied up under the bed, . They got him out of the room, I don’t know what they did with the boys, but the boys turn around and beat one particular boy that I had helped out, get in contact with his mother, because he had been locked up for so long for forgery, and wasn’t nobody helping him and I helped him out, put some money on his books and gave him a phone call, reach out to his family and stuff. And that’s what led me to all this right here., when I found out that boy just died. Alan Willison. That right there, that broke my heart what that boy went through. Didn’t no man deserve that. I’m trying to tell them, man, the treatment they gave that boy was horrible. They didn’t give that boy his medicine, that sat and watched this, That boy would wake up, this boy done got kicked so bad, this boy were complaining about his organs were messed up so bad, he’s sitting there trying to pee, couldn’t pee for hours. He pissin’ blood. This man’s testicle was the size of his fist. And they sittin’ there, mistreating this man, and the craziest thing about it, he got beat by a guard soon as he he got in jail. He got a jailer guard beat him up and put a knot on his head so big it wouldn’t go away.
“Smart, yeah, that’s him. He beat the guy up. And the crazy thing about it is, he got beat up by some guards. He got beat up by some five boys upstairs, and he turned around, he got beat up again two more times The last time he got into into an altercation, right before he died, is the guards. So whatever reason, the guards came in the room, took him out the room, and now he dead. And I’m just saying it was the guards that beat him up the first time. And after the guards took him out of the room, he died.”
Detainee 2 said he was picked up on a probation violation when his wife was pulled over in Upson County in November. He later was taken to Henry County, then to Clayton County. While he was in intake, “I was singing this song, and I guess a captain had came by, and he thought I said—he thought I called him a ‘bitch n____”—and I told him I was just singing a song.
“So he proceeded to take me out of intake, and took me behind where nobody could see us, like where they dress you out at, and him and another officer named Sabu, Sibarsky? He’s on the staff there, he’s a white gentleman, and I forgot the captain’s name, but he’s a heavyset guy. I remember I can still see his face. If you had like an image of him, I could point him out….[they] took me in the back, they forced me to take off my clothes, they forced me to get my body wet, and they didn’t take no other people out the intake cell, he just tried to punish me. So he made me squat, he made me two times, cough one time, told me I’m not good enough, he made me squat again and cough, and then, he then proceeded to make me take a bath when I told him I ain’t have to take a bath. He forced me to take a bath, and then he forced me to get my hair wet so I could be cold, but I told him not to get my hair wet because the water do something to my scalp.
“I told him, ‘I didn’t do nothing wrong. He was like, ‘I don’t give a F.’ He talked to me very belligerent, real disrespectful.”
From there, he was put in “a new holding cell, where you was fixing to get sent to the back. They had put me into a small jumpsuit, It was very small. He tried to humiliate me. That’s what he tried to do. He just slammed the door on me, told me to sit down, told me if I get up, he gonna make it worser for me, he gonna make it sure that I have it worse there, he just threatened me, like, make sure I was gonna be miserable there, basically.”
A couple of hours later, he was sent to orientation. “From there, I had found some knives, and I asked can I stay in orientation for my safety, but they didn’t proceed to take me. So I just asked could I go up to somewhere where it was safe at. But the lady, her name is Miss Williams, told me if I spend two more days there, that she could put me in somewhere that’s cool, but if I don’t she gotta walk, so she gonna be able to put me wherever she want to. And she proceeded to put me upstairs where it was dangerous at, very dangerous. Super-dangerous. It’s where a couple of gentlemen had gotten hog-tied, beat up. It’s where they jumped Alan at. They stomped his head in when he was unconscious, put him in the toilet. She made it seem like she had to do extra duties just to put me somewhere. She put me in the worsest unit ever.”
The girlfriend of another pretrial detainee, who was picked up on an alleged violation one week before he was to have completed probation, also contacted The Clayton Crescent, saying she was in fear for his safety. She said she was not afraid for us to use her name.
“They got him in there, and when he first got there, he was sleeping on a mat with no covers, they had water dripping all over him,” she said. “A lot of people did. When they finally put him somewhere, they put him in Hi Max, with like gang-affiliated people, where they would threaten him, they would tell him he had to pay to stay in there. I called the jail over 100 times, talked with so many people, nobody would help me, nobody would call me back, they never went and checked on him. It was crazy. Two days, I tried to do that.”
She said she finally was able to speak with her boyfriend. “He’s OK,” she said two weeks ago. “He wants to come home. He says it’s still crazy in there, that the first day he got there, a guard got jumped on. He has been to prison once before, and he says it’s worse than prison in there. He’s scared. He don’t get scared like that.”
According to Meagan, her boyfriend said “it’s a bunch of gang people in there. They [the COs] didn’t call and check on him or nothing. The people that was in the dorm with him, they were telling him that [he had to pay to stay in the dorm], threatening him….That’s when I called down there for two days and tried to get something done about it. Nobody won’t check on him.”
At the time, her boyfriend, who had been transferred from Monroe County, had been in the Clayton County Jail “about a week and a half.” Asked whether he had been beaten up or stabbed, Meagan said, “Not yet. I mean, I’m scared that’s what’s gonna happen, the way he’s talking….He was scared. He said they’re stabbing people in there….And he had been to Clayton County before and he said it’s nothing like it used to be….They had him on a mat with no cover and water was leaking all over him and a bunch of other people.”
The last time her boyfriend was in jail was on another probation violation “about a year, year and a half ago. He did about a month and they let him go….It was not like that at all. He said it changed bad.” He described the jail as “overcrowded. I know last time he was in there, he said that everybody had COVID and there were riots. That’s when they first started, when they were putting the sick people in there with the non-sick people.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a glimmer of light under the jailhouse door. Pretrial detainees were left to improvise masks with underwear, t-shirts, towels, whatever they could find. Once word got out, CCSO ordered masks, parceled out hand sanitizer, and made public statements about the jail being safe and clean. Several male and female detainees filed suit in federal court over conditions at the jail. The suit alleged that, “Following the start of Plaintiffs’ investigation into the jail’s conditions, jailers in early June  distributed some facemasks and began cleaning certain areas of the jail more regularly, but those minor changes are insufficient to protect detainees from spreading infection. Cleaning occurs in a cursory manner, at irregular intervals, and often at the initiative of individual detainees. Sanitizing products remain scarce and are often available only to officers.”
“They had beat him very bad”
Detainee 2 knew Willison.
Willison had been moved around to at least three different units in the jail: from 8-3 to the infirmary, where Detainee 2 alleges Willison spent two weeks, then to 5-5, then back to the infirmary from approximately December to January.
“Alan had told me a story of the first incident ever to happen to him, happened by the jail itself. The faculty,” he said. “I guess Lt. Smart, or an officer named Smart, in intake. This was, I guess it’s on camera. He had made a remark about—I guess it’s supposed to be something like a movie—[unintelligible] knows about the movie and the details of what Alan had said, and I was there but I don’t know the movie. But I guess he had made a joke or whatnot…So lt. Smart had took him into the back and beat him very bad and had put a knot on the left side of his head. I can’t remember if it’s the left side or the right side, but it’s a permanent mark. It’s like a boil. That’s how big it was. It didn’t go down.
‘I was in there with Alan over a month. Over a month in Housing Unit 5-5. So when he started complaining out of nowhere, it was like—this is the one I went to Bible study with. We talked to God. So he was telling me and [Detainee 3, a cellmate] like, he in pain. One side of his nuts was like the size of a baseball. And it’s throbbing. He was like, it was beating.”
In an interview with The Appeal, Willison’s mother, Tracie Emerson, said her son may have been diagnosed with stage four testicular cancer before he was jailed. However, both she and Clayton County Medical Examiner Brian Byars need clarification that CCSO is not willing to give. Byars has filed a request for a court order for CCSO to turn over Willison’s medical records from the jail.
Detainee 2 didn’t know whether Willison’s testicle had been swollen before he came to jail.
“Ma’am, I can’t honestly tell you,” he said. “I know the first incident that happened to him, it happened from Lt. Smart, which is a Clayton County deputy. He was a lieutenant or a sergeant, one of those, A sergeant or a lieutenant. He had beat Alan very bad….When Alan was booked in, he was corrupted because they put his name under a false name, a false alias….But Clayton County caused it to Alan, though. They were the first ones who ever beat him.”
He also spoke of what happened to another detainee, who he named; The Clayton Crescent found a man with a similar name with a pending gang-related case but was unable to find him in the last 31 days of online jail bookings. We are not naming the man, given the life-threatening nature of the allegations, but will call him Detainee 4.
“They had put him into a cell,” he said. “First they had him in an open cell where, when the officer was in there, he was like going through different cells just like doing head count kinda things. So one had already had previous before Alan, another gentleman had got hog-tied in there for two days. And when he got hog-tied, they had hid his body. So when they came in and was doing inspection, they found him hog-tied with his ribs broken. So that’s why the officers started going in and started doing head counts.”
“They had had [Detainee 4] in one cell, he continued. “I guess he had like swung on one of the Blood members….I guess when the officer left, they took him to another room that closes, and beat him up, put out a phone, told him CashApp, tell him to CashApp his people, like…you know what I’m saying? They told him to send this, send this. So his people, they couldn’t do it. So I guess he had the strength to fight ’em off. He was fighting ’em off. So I just hit ’em.
“Me and my buddies, we was talking about the Tower of Babylon in another cell, like two doors down to the left…so [Detainee 4] had to have been in five, and the door can close up there, we was in Housing Unit 8-3. It was 8-305, and I was in 8-307. We was talking about the Tower of Babylon, me and a couple of my buddies. And all we can hear is ‘Help! Help!’—like scary-movie like. People thinking I’m over-exaggerating. I’m the only one that can hear it. Like repeating, somebody yelling from the top of they lungs, ‘Help! Help!’ So about the time we all come out, ’cause we were taking about God and things, right, we was talking about is God real thing, so about the time we come out, we see we look at, the door is closed, but we see [Detainee 4] beating on the door. So the officer come in, he got his Taser out, and he got his pepper spray out. So about the time we look, [Detainee 4], when they part the door, he telling the guard that’s on this side the dome to pop the door. So when he popped the door, you see [Detainee 4] come out… bleeding from his nose and his mouth, he just look like—the sheriff was just like, he said, beat to death. He got knots all on his head, he just look like Punkinhead, basically. Made him look like Punkinhead. And then from there, the officer took him out.
“And I had a knife on me ’cause they had covered up the cameras and I was new, me and [Detainee 4] was new, and they saying when the gentleman had covered up the camera, someone had give me a knife for my protection. So I don’t know, they was trying to extort me out of my snacks and my food and things now, so when they did that, that’s when one of the gentlemen—he supposed to be a high-ranking Blood—he like, ‘Oh, y’all go on, go lockdown,’ So a inmate is basically telling us to go lock down because they tend to have a search and whatever. So when I proceeded to put the weapon up, I swung on one of the people that harmed him, basically. And this documented. It’s documented. That’s how I know [Detainee 4] name. They made us take a statement in Medical. Not the deputies, but the medical people. Medical people got this on file. His name [Detainee 4]. He had a fractured right shoulder. They messed up his shoulder.
“And that’s when they proceeded to take me from that unit and put me downstairs for my safety, you know what I’m saying? Because I did a act of courage.”
Before that, he said, he had spent eight or nine days in orientation because he was afraid of what would happen to him in the housing units.
“And after orientation, they sent us upstairs,” he said—into the belly of the beast.
He said the cameras are covered up “all day” on 8-3. “like 5, 6 hours when [Inmate 4] had got jumped. It’s documented. I was with him. He almost lost his life. he told me personal, if I wasn’t there to save him, he coulda lost his life.”
Inmate Two also described how some detainees are making knives and hiding them from corrections officers.
“Everybody making knives out of the toilet, out of like the copper pipes, the bathroom material, lights, the light fixtures, anything that you can break off, basically,” he told The Clayton Crescent. “The door hinges….they taking the screws out of the hinges and making knives outta that….out of screws, nails, wood, out of the mop, out the bucket, they’ll break the materials, in like, many ways.”
Detainee 2 said detainees are hollowing out the building itself to stash those knives where COs can’t see them.
He added that the COs only do cursory inspections of the dorms.
“When they do a shakedown, they don’t really do a thorough shakedown. There still be knives. People got knives….They have those deep inside the ground. They have knives inside the ground.”
Detainee 1 said the jail has inmates, including murderers, who have been there for years who should be in prison.
“And these guards allow these particular inmates to walk around outside , go from dorm to dorm, and they come to your dorm, they supply you with whatever you need,” he said. “So they come in your door, and get your order, and go get it for you.”
And the guards just sit by, watch, and “pop the doors” for them, he said. “Whatever’s going on, they don’t do nothing about it.
“You want meth, you want weed, you want cigarettes? You want to buy some snack from somebody else, another inmate? Yeah, stuff like that.”
Want a pack of cigarettes? Give the guard $100. Want a cell phone? Give the guard $500, he said.
“This is guaranteed stuff that is going on,” he said. “You put an undercover man, you ain’t gonna believe what’s going on.”
“A horror movie”
Both men described “upstairs” as an area where violent detainees were held. They said corrections officers would move other detainees who were being held on less-serious charges, such as alleged traffic offenses, to that area as punishment. They alleged that gang members were among those “upstairs” and that those detainees would beat up the new person, produce a contraband cell phone, and order them to contact their friends or family on the outside to put money into a CashApp account. If their victim refused or was unable to raise the money, then the gang members allegedly would beat them severely. In one case, they said, a man who did not come through with the CashApp was beaten badly, then hog-tied and stuffed under a bunk. A sheet hid the man from view for two days until corrections officers finally looked under the bed and found him there.
On his first day in jail, Detainee 2 saw something hanging down from the water fountain in a common area. Curious, he said, he went to see what it was and discovered several knives stashed in the bottom of the water fountain.
He alleges that knives are everywhere in the jail and that someone had even given him one for “self-protection” after he stood up for another detainee who was being beaten by gang members.
According to Detainee 2, people inside the jail are using knives to remove door sills or frames, carve into the cement, and create holes where more knives can be stashed. They replace the trim and, according to him, corrections officers are not inspecting cells closely enough to find the contraband.
“When they do a shakedown, they don’t do a thorough shakedown,” he said. “There still be knives. People got knives at the bottom—you know, like the bottom row? There’s a top row and a bottom row. The bottom row, they have people to dig out where the doors open at, it’s like a white—you know how concrete is? And it’s supposed to be like cement there. They have those deep inside the ground, They have the knives deep inside the ground so when officers do a shakedown, they ain’t thoroughly looking. They not really doing they job. Still gonna be knives. They gotta really spend a couple of hours in there to do a really thorough shakedown to really get all the knives out of that place. Just go in there, riling up things, having a commotion….But they really got to do a thorough shake. Down. They’ve got to really look in every crevices of the jail. They gotta look at every crevices of the dorm. They gotta look inside the wall, they gotta look inside the ground. You know like when you walk through a door, you know how your door close and then they got that frame around it and the bottom got that little metal piece? …Imagine that like is just a little, a little plastic part. And then they’ll get a knife and dig it out. Then they’ll put it back like how it looked originally. But the jail’s so old, it looks just like wear and tear, but originally, if they really used their eyes, looked down, they could really see, there is knives here. Knives everywhere.”
Hidden in the system?
“I ain’t got no problem with nobody there,” Detainee 2 said, “but Alan, his injuries first started with the officer. Officer was the first one to ever beat on him. Officer. Officer. He told us personally. I heard it out of his mouth. He told me who it was first, As God is my witness. Lieutenant Smart. Or Sergeant Smart. It’s somebody named Smart, though. Supposed to be a lieutenant. It’s a high-ranking Smart, though….it’s been documented, though, it’s documented where he, intake told him to bring up the information fomr intake and the camera see—you know what I’m saying? And they’re so corrupted, they got him hid because they put his alias as Williamson—W-I-L-L-I-A-M-S. It’s not that, it’s Williams. So they had him under a false alias.”
The Clayton Crescent asked Interim Sheriff Levon Allen to confirm or deny that the deputy who the detainees claim had beaten Willison works in the Clayton County Jail. We also asked him to confirm or deny whether any complaints had been filed against him by pretrial detainees. Two weeks later, Allen has yet to respond.
Emerson told The Appeal’s Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, “He told me through the messaging system, ‘Mom, I can’t say too much on here. There’s too many ears. But he would say, ‘I am scared in here. I need out.'”
Part 2: How the contraband moves
The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news organization that covers the criminal justice and penal system, is tracking Alan Willison’s case.