Records delayed after Allen met with staffer

Alan Willison, a homeless lawn maintenance man from Florida, was booked into the Clayton County Jail on a charge of third-degree forgery on October 26, 2022. A few months later—23 days after his case was transferred to Superior Court—Willison was dead.

For weeks, he sent increasingly frantic messages to the jail infirmary. He was severely beaten, more than once, and said he was sure his internal organs had been damaged and were shutting down. His left testicle began swelling, first to the size of a tennis ball, then as big as his hand. He repeatedly begged for painkillers so he could sleep. He got Tylenol and Motrin. Three months after he entered the Clayton County Jail, Willison’s body went limp and he slid out of a wheelchair. Nurses from Correct Health repeatedly called deputies for help. CCSO showed up an hour later. EMS took Willison out on a stretcher while a paramedic straddled his chest to perform CPR. On January 26, at 6:19 a.m., three months after he had arrived at the jail, Willison, 32, was pronounced dead at Southern Regional Hospital.

When Clayton County Medical Examiner Brian Byars asked CCSO for routine paperwork, the sheriff’s department stalled. When an investigator went in person to pick up the records, a CCSO major stopped copying the records after Interim Sheriff Levon Allen walked by, then called her aside. Finally, Byars got a court order compelling CCSO to hand over the records linked to Willison’s death.

Those records reveal not only Willison’s tortured journey through the jail contractor’s medical system, but also a string of inaccuracies, delays, possible Open Records Act violations, and a lack of urgency that, according to Byars, contributed to Willison’s slow, painful decline in conditions that rival some of the world’s worst prisons.

An investigator with the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s office wrote on January 26 that he had spoken with Willison’s mother, Tracie Emerson, and that “her son repeatedly told her he was in fear of his life. He told her he was feeling sick and that no one was helping him. That he felt he was going to die there. She said at one point he told her his scrotum was swollen and painful. Mrs. Emerson wanted answers and could not understand why he would die at only 32 years old. She said she tried to go back and look at the messages on the jail system and said all of the messages had been deleted.”

CCSO eventually produced the e-mails between Willison and Emerson. Willison repeatedly denied that he had forged a check that he tried to cash at a bank, telling his mother, “(T)he check was written out in my name and not in my handwriting.”

The Clayton Crescent did not find Willison’s criminal file listed on the Clayton County Courts’ online case lookup portal. We searched both criminal and civil cases, under “Willison,” “Williston,” and “Wilson.”

We finally found his case listed under the name “Williamson,” the name by which the jail had incorrectly booked him. Willison pointed this error out in one of his last requests for medical help. He asked over and over again why he was being given Tylenol and ibuprofein instead of stronger painkillers and when he could see the doctor about his swollen testicle and painful internal organs. Over and over again, he received curt bureaucratic responses, even when he said he needed to go to the emergency room on January 17, nine days before he died:

Meanwhile, Georgia Urology repeatedly tried to contact someone, anyone at the Clayton County Jail because they said Willison needed immediate surgery to remove his cancerous testicle. While they couldn’t say for sure that the surgery would have saved his life, it would have given him a chance.

Willison’s case was never tried. It was dropped March 6—39 days after he died in CCSO’s custody:

According to Byars, who signed his death certificate, extreme conditions in the Clayton County Jail contributed to Willison’s death:

Willison’s official cause of death was “metastatic testicular carcinoma complicated by medical neglect.” Byars also found the following factors contributed to Willison’s death:

  • “Inadequate and unhygienic conditions while incarcerated”
  • “Medical neglect while incarcerated”
  • “Malnourishment while incarcerated”
  • “Sequelae of physical abuse while incarcerated”

Two cellmates of Willison’s also had told The Clayton Crescent of Willison’s suffering and of his severe beatings, which they said were at the hands of gang members in the jail, as well as allegedly by CCSO staff.

CCSO’s incident report narrative of Willison’s death was written February 6—eleven days after the fact—by Captain Cedric Hunter, who apparently was not involved in the incident and who repeatedly states that Willison was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. In fact, Willison was transported to Southern Regional Medical Hospital in Riverdale:

According to Hunter, “On January 26, 2023, at approximately 0518 hours, Sergeant Johnson and Nurse Badon went to M19 to perform medical round and IV drip on Inmate [sic] Alan Willison (LE# 2254266). Upon opening the cell door, Inmate Willison was found non-Responsive; but breathing. Nurse Badon asked Sgt Johnson to call the Nurse Practitioner Vessel and chest compressions were administered immediately.

“An ambulance was called by Officer Redding in Central Control at 0528 hours. The Ambulance arrived at the Jail at 0541 hours. Per Sergeant Johnson, Inmate Willison was breathing on his own at 0538 hours. Inmate Wilson was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital for treatment. Inmate Willison made it to Grady and was still breathing. After several minutes of operating on Inmate Willison, he was then pronounced decease by Grady Medical Staff. Inmate Willison suffered from severe medical issues in which [sic] he was diagnosed prior to his arrival to Clayton County Jail. Grady Medical Staff confirmed that his passing was caused by the medical issue is has been [sic] diagnosed with and that there appeared not to be any foul play involved. Grady Nurse Gina and Doctor Jones both confirmed that Inmate Wilson had no bruising or scars that could be caused by an assault of any kind.

“Clayton County Medical Examiner Kevin Corley responded to Grady and examined Inmate Willison’s body. The GBI was notified but did not respond due to there being no foul play involved. Hope Funeral Home was notified in reference to receiving the body.”

This account of events differs significantly from that of the medical examiner’s report, which outlines the sequence of events leading up to Willison’s death, to whom CCMEO investigators spoke during the investigation, and how the evidence did—or did not— support CCSO’s version of events.

Reports from medical staff at the jail also contradict CCSO’s incident report, with one noting, “Nurses in the infirmary did not have an officer all night, so they had to call for an officer to go see patient. They called several times, an officer didn’t arrive until 0535”:

Case timeline

Jan. 26, 2023

5:47 a.m.: CCFES MED 7 arrives at the jail infirmary. Willison was in cardiac arrest. EMS gives Willison epinephrine and Narcan on the way to Southern Regional.

6:19 a.m.: Dr. Kyle Jones pronounces Willison dead in Southern Regional’s emergency room: “The body was in SRMC ER exam room 2. His red jail jumpsuit had been cut. The Intubation tube was still in place. The body was warm to the touch. Rigor mortis was not present. Livor mortis was beginning to settle and was consistent with the position of the body. The eyes were clear and moist. There was no external trauma observed.”

6:33 a.m.: CCMEO Investigator Ken Corley dispatched to Southern Regional: “While I was at the ER, I spoke with one of the CCFES personnel who advised there has been a recent uptick in cases of fentanyl overdoses at the County Jail. Which would explain why CCFES Med 7 administered narcan while in route to the hospital.”

Dr. Kyle Jones notified Willison’s mother and Hope Funeral Home took Willison’s body to the county morgue.

11 a.m.: Corley contacts CCSO Internal Affairs Investigator Ervin Swain to get Willison’s “inmate file, jail medical records and any video of the incident….He advised me I could meet with him at his office at S.O. headquarters…Once there I went to his office and stopped at the front desk to let them know who I was and who I was there to see. The clerk contacted Inv. Swain and he relayed information back to her that he needed time to gather all of the documents I needed and he would contact me when they were ready to be picked up.”

January 27, 2023

12 p.m.: Corley called Swain “to see if the documents I requested were ready to be picked up. I did not receive an answer via phone nor text message.”

January 30, 2023

12:14 p.m.: Corley texts Swain to ask whether the documents were ready for pickup but “I did not receive a response. I then called him and he advised me he was transferred out. of the Internal Affairs unit and told me he was going to text me Inv. David Jackson’s phone number to call about getting the documents I requested.”

1:39 p.m.: Swain texts CCSO Major Ronnae Tolbert’s number to Corley. Corley called Tolbert and explained he was looking for the documents about Willison’s death. “Major Tolbert told me she would meet with me on Tuesday, January 31, 2023 to provide the requested documents.”

January 31, 2023

12 p.m.: Corley goes to CCSO headquarters to meet with Tolbert, “who had the requested documents in hand and asked me to follow her to the copier to make the necessary copies for me. She did advise that she did not have immediate access to the video but was going to give me the information I needed to obtain the video. I followed her to the copier as requested. Major Tolbert began to make copies of the inmate files and asked me what in the inmate files I needed. I told her all of the inmate files, especially anything within the last month.”

At that point, “The Sheriff [Levon Allen] walked through the area we were in and introduced himself to me. I introduced myself to him and he asked Major Tolbert to come with him and excused them for the interruption.

“When Major Tolbert returned she advised me she was going to get me information I needed in order to obtain the inmate medical records and left the area. When she returned, I was on the phone with Brian Byars to advise him of the situation, she provided me with an email address to obtain the medical records and left again.

“When she returned again I asked her if the refusal to provide the requested documentation was coming from her or someone above her. She would not answer that question but proceeded to tell me that I told her I was from the G.B.I. and that I was acting nervous so she was not going to provide the documents to me.

“I told her [that] I never told her I was from the G.B.I., that I was with the Clayton County Medical Examiners office and that the G.B.I.’s Medical Examiners office was requesting the documentation in order to begin an autopsy on the decedent.

“She then said ‘if you don’t have anything else I’m finished talking with you I have a meeting to go to’ and walked off.”

At the time, Allen was well into running for sheriff and had just reported $12,100 in campaign contributions—including $3,000 from former sheriff Victor Hill, who had been convicted on federal civil rights charges for abusing six pretrial detainees in the Clayton County Jail.

Tolbert is a former City of Jonesboro detective.

“They tried to make contact with the jail 5 times to urge them to bring [Willison] for surgery and never received a response for the jail. They stated they did not know if the outcome would have changed but he needed treatment for the cancer. The jail never contacted the doctor to set up any type of care.”

Betty Honey, clayton county medical examiner’s office

February 1, 2023

Betty Honey notes that Willison’s aunt, Mary Beth Nelson, works at Rainbow House and “had contacted Sabrina to see about getting her nephew released to a funeral home. I [have] yet to hear from her but she may be working locally to get him to Florida where his mother lives.”

February 3, 2023

Corley notes, “GBI [medical examiner’s] Office called to advise they have a table ready for Alan Willison.” That same day, Corley notes, “Received a call from Donna advising that she received a call from Hattie letting us know medical records for Alan Willison are ready for pick up. She did not advise if it was both medical record and inmate file [that] were ready. I attempted to call the Sheriff’s Office to talk to Hattie but no one answered the phone.” Donna Wilson notes that HOPE had been called to take Willison’s body to GBI.

February 4, 2023

According to Corley, “GBI ME office called to advise they are finished and waiting for Histology. They inquired about what funeral home is going to be used. I told them I needed to check with the decedent’s mother and would call them back to let them know.”

February 10, 2023

Honey notes, “The decedent’s aunt called to let us know they had spoken with Georgia Urology. They tried to make contact with the jail 5 times to urge them to bring the decedent for surgery and never received a response for the jail. They stated they did not know if the outcome would have changed but he needed treatment for the cancer. The jail never contacted the doctor to set up any type of care.”

February 14, 2023

Clayton County Medical Examiners Office files a mandamus request with Clayton County Superior Court, asking Judge Robert Mack to order CCSO to hand over Willison’s documents:

April 10, 2023

Byars rips CCSO in his final report: “I uploaded a case outline from interviews and reports, the outline and other items are hard to follow in some cases and the sheriff’s office provided no incident reports on the assaults and the one they did provide was full of misinfomation.

“The death certificate was signed out as Cause: Metastatic Testicular Carcinoma (findings from autopsy at GBI) Complicated by Medical Neglect (find[ing]s from our investigation and lack of care and attention they gave his condition.

Manner: Natural. Significant Conditions Contributing To Death But Not Related To Cause: Inadequate & Unhygienic Living Conditions While Incarcerated (witnesses & the deceased in emails detailed horrible living conditions, from black mold, none work toilets [sic], leaking pipes on beds, etc, this would not be a good environment for someone with a weakened immune system.)

Medical Neglect While Incarcerated (medical records show large time spans of medical care provided and followed through for such serious symptoms and lab results. Only pain management was Tylenol type medication, witnesses and deceased detailed out horrible amount of pain and also symptoms that should not have been ignored.)

Malnourishment While Incarcerated (the deceased and witness stated they would only receive a minimum amount of breakfast at 4:30ish in the morning that you need to be awake to receive, and the same goes with pill call, one turkey sandwich ad lunch no dinner. If the detainee doesn’t have the resources to purchase food from the commissary, then they will go without enough calories and nutrients to function; someone with this type of serious illness needs more food to have the strength to survive. It was documented in some of the notes where trustees would not be available and no meal would be served.)

Saequelae Of Physical Abuse While Incarcerated (medical records detailed out at least a couple of assaults that witnesses concerned happened, 1 from staff 1 from detainees. No Incident Reports Given by CCSO.)”

Byars described CCSO’s incident report as “the craziest thing I’ve ever read in my life. It almost seemed like there was some level of guilty conscience going on. The other thing was it clearly was from witnesses and medical treatment and comments the medical staff made that he was involved in at least two incidents…[but there were] no charges or anything. My feeling is that they’re trying to cover something up, I just don’t know what: incompetence, negligence, not a clue. I’ve never seen someone write an incident report saying ‘by the way, I’m not guilty.'”

Byars said he has spoken with Emerson about the contributing factors on Willison’s death certificate and that her attorney had the information, although he had not yet spoken with her about the final report: “She kind of knew where it was going.”

Byars said the urologist’s recommendation for immediate surgery should not have been ignored.

“In my opinion, if you had [test result] numbers come in where you did on December 9 that was looking like he clearly had cancer there, I find it weird he never mentioned anything in his medical requests or to his mom or anything,” Byars told The Clayton Crescent. “It makes me think they never told him what his results were….he probably didn’t know about his testicular cancer until after the 19th, when he met with the urologist.

“From what I could tell, they finally kind of acknowledged ‘he’s complaining of this, so we’ll go ahead and treat him for chlamydia and give him antibiotics.’ That wasn’t fixing the problem. I think there was a nurse practitioner who said, ‘Hey, here’s all these things consistent with testicular cancer, then they ran all the labs, the results came back on the 9th, I think they said ‘hey, we need to get him some help,” and then on the 30th is when the doctor finally put an order in, which was like on the Thursday or Friday before a holiday weekend, so of course it took another several days, I’m sure, to get an appointment, then he was scheduled for January 19….Ultimately, he went close to six weeks with these astronomically high cancer tumor markers where we’re seeing no type of care, no pain relief, near the end saying he had Stage 4 testicular cancer but they’re not exploring any kind of hospice or treatment. His mother said she talked to the urologist and that they had tried to schedule surgery a couple of times but couldn’t get anything scheduled.”

Because cancer can spread rapidly, Byars added, “That’s why we put in the contributing factors of unsanitary and malnourished, about to be homeless, under enormous stress, having the living shit beat out of you….From what I can gather, it certainly can accelerate that some just by not receiving proper care. I mean, if he was put on hospice, he probably would have lived a lot longer, in my opinion. At least he would have been more comfortable.”

“my left testicle is swelled up a size of a tennis ball. i got to go to a urologist. i feel like im dying and clayton county jail taking there sweet time. theres no need to sit this long for something to happen. its like ur guilty before your proven innocent.”

Alan willison, Dec. 30, 2022, in an e-mail to his mother

Why was Willison not released early, as other seriously ill pretrial detainees have been?

“I think probably lack of empathy on the sheriff’s standpoint, their leadership, probably a whole lot of incompetence, not managing their detainee population,” Byars said. “Again, I’m making assumptions but I think surely there’s someone higher up who runs the jail and went to the sheriff and said, ‘We have someone with Stage 4 cancer.’ They could have gone to the solicitor and the solicitor would have dropped it immediately. There’s no sense in sentencing someone to death in the jail.”

At one point, Willison e-mailed his mother, asking her to help research whether the jail might have mixed him up with someone who had a similar name:

The Clayton Crescent ran a Florida criminal background check on Willison, as well as “Alan S. Williamson” as an alias. No Alan S. Williamson came up in Florida.

The jail listed all e-mails to and from Willison as being addressed to “Williamson, Alan Scott.”

On December 20, Willison e-mailed Emerson: “mom i saw a attourney [sic] yesterday, most likely he will try to get a release on recog[nizance] on for me or the case will be dismissed. ill be able to go home and there will be a pending felony charge and if i stay out of trouble, the charge will disappear after a while. i say ill be out sooner than you think. could be this week. …they could be letting me out before christmas. fingers crossed. ill get a great job and ill be clean. even truegreen would be nice. ill pay you back tenfold. i promise. i have .50 cents left so if u want to message me, you got to put a lil cash in my account which they will give me a check or debit card for whatever is left in the account on my release day. there is your great news. im happy and i love you very much. love, alan”.

According to another e-mail he sent his mother, Willison said, “the check was written out to me in my name. the check is less than a 1000 [dollars]. they never ran or processed the check, nor stamped the back. i assume she thought i was someone else because i look different from my id since i grew my hair out….i was going to the hospital but never went. also was going to get fo(o)d but never did. i woke up that day to come to jail i guess.”

Emerson said she had “some concerns” about Willison coming home and that she didn’t have money to give him at that time.

Willison replied, “hold up, your blowing things out of proportion already. the felony will not be on my record and ill explain that later. i cannot live in georgia. its illegal to be homeless…im going to need help please. im not going to be stuck here in the hood or going to jail for nothing….i spoke to [public defender] justin jones….im sorry but ive changed and im a better person. i just got messed up by something and i will explain everything when i get home….when i get to florida, i will be on my stuff. im not playing no more with my life. i have no clothes and i need help. please. i need a phone. i need help.”

Emerson replied, “Lets just play it by ear you gotta get out first. I understand the rest.”

Willison responded, “this is my last text message. if you want to talk to me more, your going to have to put more money on my account. once justin get my discovery, ill get a court date amd based on the information they have and what i know and told him and also evidence, my ass is going home. its either a case dismissed or an ROR [relase on own recognizance]. i think its a case dismissed. georgia does things different from florida. i think if i dont get out this week, it will be after christmas so you will have time to get money situated. once i get to florida im going to be on the ball. also i need to talk to you about personal things alone and medical things. my head is fine. there is just too much negativity in this jail and it rubs off on everybodys mood.”

On December 30, Willison wrote, “my left testicle is swelled up a sized of a tennis ball. i got to go to a urologist. i feel like im dying and clayton county jail taking there sweet time. theres no need to sit this long for something to happen. its like ur guilty before your proven innocent.”

The Clayton Crescent left a voicemail message for Allen seeking comment on the medical examiner’s report. We will update with any response.

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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