11:07 a.m. 4/25: Minor edits throughout

The Clayton Crescent has learned of two new stabbing incidents in the Clayton County Jail, which come as U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff has launched an investigation into how inmate deaths and federal funds were reported and spent at the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office.

Ossoff also is looking into inmate deaths at the Fulton County Jail and the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown, IN.

Multiple sources told The Clayton Crescent Thursday that a stabbing or slashing incident took place in Housing Unit 6. The source indicated that, allegedly, “one inmate’s finger was cut off and another inmate has a finger hanging on by a thread.” A photo sent to The Clayton Crescent shows what appears to be a homemade knife.

Sources also told The Clayton Crescent that Sheriff Levon Allen has fired four deputies since the amputation incident. It’s not clear whether those firings were related to the incident.

In another incident over the past few days, a pretrial detainee allegedly has been stabbed in the eye. We have not been able to confirm this report as of press time Monday and are working to learn more about the alleged incident. Sheriff Levon Allen did not respond to our request for more information by press time. (To date, although he approached The Clayton Crescent on November 11, 2022 to offer his business card at the “18 Holes for Heroes” golf tournament, Allen has yet to return a single text message, e-mail, or phone call seeking comment on any story.)

Meanwhile, Ossoff has asked the Department of Justice to produce records for the the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Human Rights no later than May 8, showing how the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office handled federal funds since January 2013, as well as whether the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) had submitted records of all inmate deaths, including at the Clayton County Jail.

Who was in charge?

That period of time covers former sheriff and convicted felon Victor Hill‘s term in office, as well as the periods when then-Acting Sheriff Roland Boehrer and then-Interim Sheriff Levon Allen were responsible for running the Clayton County Jail. Allen, whom Hill had backed to finish out his term, won the runoff for sheriff last Tuesday by 266 votes.

Hill has been ordered to report to the Forrest City Federal Correctional Institute on May 15 to serve 18 months as punishment for his conviction on six of seven counts of violating pretrial detainees’ civil rights by strapping them into jailhouse restraint chairs. Federal prosecutors showed that at least one detainees’ handcuffs cut deeply into the flesh of their wrists, and that several detainees were forced to urinate on themselves during excessive periods of time in those chairs.

U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross has ordered prosecutors to reply to Hill’s motion for bond pending appeal by Thursday, April 27, with any reply from the defense due by Tuesday, May 2.

Ossoff, who chairs the seven-member U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights, also asked whether the U.S. Marshals Service had incarcerated anyone at the Clayton County Jail.

Other members of the Subcommittee on Human Rights include:

The subcommittee oversees human rights laws and policies, enforcement and implementation of human rights laws, judicial proceedings regarding human rights laws, and judicial and executive branch interpretations of human rights laws.

In the letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Ossoff wrote, “The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has an affirmative obligation to safeguard the civil rights of incarcerated people, whether they are held in Federal, state, or local custody. Additionally, the Federal government provides hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to state and local prisons and jails through an array of grant programs, including through the DOJ Bureau of Justice Assistance (“BJA”), and thus has the responsibility to oversee the use of those resources.”

The federal Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA) requires Georgia CJCC to send quarterly reports of all inmate deaths to the Justice Department. In 2015, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the federal Bureau of Prisons began reporting detailed information on each inmate death, including “individual-level data on the number of deaths by year, cause of death, and decedent age, race or Hispanic origin, and sex. These data are also used to produce facility and population mortality rates. The collection of individual-level data allows BJS to perform detailed analyses of comparative death rates across demographic categories and offense types and facility and agency characteristics.”

According to BJS, that Mortality in Correctional Institutions (MCI) data “collects many, but not all, of the elements outlined in the DCRA reauthorization (P.L. 113-242), but because MCI is collected for statistical purposes only, it cannot be used for DCRA enforcement.”

Read the Death in Custody Reporting Act

“Since 2019, has the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (“CJCC”) reported to DOJ data pertaining to individuals who died while incarcerated at the Fulton County or Clayton County Jails, as required by DCRA?” Ossoff asked in his letter.

Ossoff also asked whether CJCC had submitted quarterly reports since January 2019: “If not, how any quarters did CJCC miss? If CJCC did not submit any or complete reports to DOJ, please describe any remedial measures that DOJ has pursued, including levying penalties or providing technical assistance.”

We tried to reach CJCC by phone Monday for comment but its voice mailbox was full.

Other questions Ossoff wants answered include:

  • Whether CJCC’s data included the cause of death for each inmate;
  • Whether DOJ “tracks jail deaths by contracted health care vendor” and “if not, why not”;
  • How much federal funding the Clayton County Jail has gotten each year from DOJ since January 2013, “including through grant programs administered by BJA”;
  • “a brief narrative description of all DOJ funding” the Clayton County Jail has gotten since January 2013, “including the purpose of such funding”;
  • Whether the Civil Rights Division has investigated the jail since 2013, “pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (“CRIPA”), and provide the results of any such investigation.”

For any inmates held at the Clayton County Jail for the U.S. Marshals Service, Ossoff has asked to see:

  • “a copy of the Intergovernmental Services Agreement or other document outlining the terms by which the facility would hold federal detainees”;
  • “the facility’s annual USM-218 reports”;
  • “any assessments or audits of the facility’s compliance with the contractual terms”;
  • “in aggregate by year, all data that the facility has produced to the USMS pursuant to the Federal Performance-Based Detention Standards”.

Federal scrutiny

The Clayton County Jail was one of three facilities nationwide for which Ossoff is seeking records. Ossoff has blasted conditions and lack of oversight at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and, in September 2o22, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony about corrections officers bringing in contraband, inmates misusing their commissary accounts, and physical and sexual abuse by COs.

That same month, the Government Accounting Office testified that “70% of records that states submitted to DOJ were missing at least one required element—e.g., a description of the individual’s death. As of August 2022, DOJ has not determined whether states have complied with the law, but doing so could help improve the quality of data states submit. We recommended that DOJ develop an implementation plan to determine states’ compliance.”

More specifically, GAO wrote in a one-page summary, DOJ told them in September 2022 that DOJ “had not studied the state data, in part, because the data were incomplete.” So GAO compared those records to “publicly available data.” GAO found almost 1,000 deaths had gone unreported to DOJ, and that 70% of records that states had turned in “were missing at least one element required by DCRA, such as a description of the circumstances surrounding the individual’s death or the age of the individual.”

The full report indicates that “DOJ officials told us the consultant did not analyze the state DCRA data as part of the first report—despite that being a requirement of the law—because the data were incomplete. Instead, DOJ instructed the consultant to use other, older state and local data collected by BJS to meet the first part of the DCRA study and report requirement.”

The law requires, “at a minimum”:

  • name, gender, race, ethnicity, and age of the deceased;
  • date, time, and location of death;
  • law enforcement agency that detained, arrested, or was in the process of arresting the deceased;
  • a brief description of the circumstances surrounding the death.

Read the full GAO report

The Clayton Crescent has filed an Open Records Request with CCSO for its USM-218 reports, which are detailed annual evaluations of a correctional facility’s administration and management, sanitation and safety, security and control, food service, healthcare, and services and programs. The evaluation includes interviews with “high-level staff” as well as randomly-selected corrections staff and detainees.

We’ve also left a message for the U.S. Marshals Service, seeking further information about how much the Clayton County Jail charges to house federal prisoners, if it has housed any.

The Clayton Crescent e-mailed Sheriff Levon Allen on Monday, seeking his response to these matters, and will update with any direct response from him.

Cries for help

On April 11, The Clayton Crescent broke the story that Clayton County Medial Examiner Brian Byars, who wrote detainee Alan Willison’s death certificate, found Willison had died of metastatic testicular cancer and that the jail’s lack of medical care was a contributing factor. One of Willison’s testicles had swollen to a size larger than his hand and e-mails show he repeatedly begged the jail for medical assistance over the three months he was held there.

Willison’s official cause of death was “metastatic testicular carcinoma complicated by medical neglect,” Byars found, with four contributing factors:

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

The Clayton Crescent also interviewed two of Willison’s cellmates, who said a CCSO staffer and other detainees had severely beaten Willison.

As we were preparing this story for publication, another person who had been detained in the Clayton County Jail in December wrote The Clayton Crescent, alleging he had been injured during a health emergency. He ended his e-mail with:

Someone is going to get killed if the feds or the marshalls dont get involved.

Do your own research

The Clayton Crescent has been covering conditions at the Clayton County Jail, as well as numerous allegations of corruption at the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office and the federal trials of former sheriff Victor Hill and former CCSO chief of staff Mitzi Bickers, since its inception in April 2020.

Prior to that, The Clayton Crescent’s executive editor and CEO, Robin Kemp, covered the same issues as Crime and Safety Reporter with the Clayton News.

You can search our website for jail- and CCSO-related stories by using the magnifying glass in the upper right corner of our homepage. Click the magnifying glass, then type your search term into the box.

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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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