In the wake of six recent firings and ongoing reports of pretrial detainees being stabbed inside the Clayton County Jail, Sheriff Levon Allen led a tour of the jail for representatives of the New Order National Human Rights Organization and the Nation of Islam on Friday, June 2.

Allen first approached The Clayton Crescent in the courthouse parking lot, asking why we had said he had not responded to our requests for comment. We explained that we had called and texted information from a business card that Allen had given us during the 18 Holes for Heroes golf tournament, but had gotten no response. The Clayton Crescent also has e-mailed Allen but gotten no response. Allen promised to be in touch. We asked for a sit-down interview. His response was, “Baby steps.”

A few minutes later, Allen approached the activists just before a scheduled press conference outside the jail entrance. According to NONHRO’s Gerald Rose, Allen said, “I know who you are,” and offered to meet with the activists after the press conference.

Sheriff Levon Allen (right) points at New Order National Human Rights Organization’s Gerald Rose (center) and Nation of Islam’s Sister Golda X (left) outside the Clayton County Jail in Jonesboro, GA, June 2, 2023. NONHR had announced a press conference to demand a meeting with Allen about jail conditions. (Photo: Robin Kemo/The Clayton Crescent)

“I am very concerned,” Rose told reporters. “Since April, there has been six allegations going on inside, one recently…. We know that the sheriff can’t be everywhere, but he’s over this jail, so we have to blame him. Who are these people that they’re hiring? I want to know the process, and I want to demand to meet with him. What’s funny is that, while I was out here waiting for this press conference, he came up to me and said—I didn’t know that he knew me, he said, “Mr. Rose, I know who you are.” I said, “Well, sir, I’d like to meet with you about the allegations going on inside the jail.” He said, “Well, we can meet after the press conference.”

CCSO employees, contractors charged since April

May 31, 2023: Sarai Tatiana Ali arrested and charged with obstruction and party to a crime. Ali was a contract employee at the jail.

May 31, 2023: Iyana Niara Dixon arrested and charged with financial transaction fraud and theft. by taking. Dixon allegedly used an inmate’s credit card at least five times, without the inmate’s permission, including at Macy’s.

May 26, 2023: Tabatha Clifton arrested and charged with violation of oath and furnishing prohibited items to inmates. Clifton was an officer at the jail.

May 26, 2023: Jessica Castellanos charged with obstruction of officer and furnishing prohibited items to inmates. Castellanos was a contract nurse at the jail.

May 25, 2023: Sean William Hollinshead arrested and charged with criminal negligence and violation of oath. Hollinshead was a corrections officer.

April 13, 2022: Sergion Williams charged, as part of a 64-count RICO indictment, with taking a bribe via CashApp and providing contraband to inmates. Williams, a security specialist. was in charge of “popping doors” and monitoring security cameras.

Rose warned that Allen’s newfound political standing is on the line.

“First of all, all eyes is on him,” Rose said. “You know what happened under the former sheriff [Victor Hill]. If he [Allen] wants to continue his political career, all this stuff could backfire on him. My understanding is that he is kin [Allen is Hill’s godson]. And now that this is going on in the jail continuously, this could hurt his position as sheriff, so he need to turn things around immediately….If his name is connected to Victor Hill, it’s gonna make him look bad. That’s just my personal opinion. So he needs to start turning this thing around ASAP, quickly, so he could find it possible to have a career and be sheriff of Clayton County. ‘Cause of right now, it don’t look good.”

Rose said one of the latest attacks involved “a young man was stabbed in the head ’cause he was complaining about the bedbugs. First it was Fulton, now they done come to Clayton County. ” Rose said the man’s mother told him her son was retaliated against: “Basically, inmates did this, and the guards knew about this. So some situations, some of the guards involved are just as guilty . I mean, you got people getting locked up for, you know, doing stuff with the inmates, kind of stuff like that, so there’s a problem going on in the Clayton County Jail.”

Rose said he did not think the inmates are safe.

“Oh, no. Oh, no. ‘Cause there’s been several stabbings going on inside the jail. I mean, I done been out here at least three or four times about someone getting stabbed. It’s like, ‘Here we go again.'”

Rose estimated about 12 people had contacted him about problems in the jail: “It’s been likje an ongoing basis.” However, he added, “But I don’t just come out here. I want to go on facts. And I got a call last night from a mother. She’s scared to come out here because of her son just got stabbed. Like recently, like a couple of days ago. I said, ‘Ma’am, you could come out here, tell your story.’ She said, ‘I don’t want to get—because of who my son is, he might be a target. He’s been a target already.'”

The Clayton Crescent continues to get similar calls from relatives of pretrial detainees in the Clayton County Jail, most recently on June 1 from a mother who wanted help but who did not want her son to be identified. She said he had been stabbed multiple times.

“It’s like they’re scared for their safety at this point,” Rose said. “And the guards sometime have something to do with it. I seen some kind of article where the guards set up a fight between inmates. So now, they’re not safe. You gotta remember, jail is a holding place, unless you gonna get out of jail or you’re going to another destination. This is only holding. So inmates has rights. Right now, I’d be scared to go to Clayton County Jail because you don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

Rose said several things need to happen at the jail immediately.

“First of all, we need to clean it up,” he said. “We know you’re fresh on the job, you haven’t been on the sheriff that long, you know, what are you gonna do? I know you can’t be everywhere, but right now, it does not look good. I really questioned when, during the election time, he never attend no debates. I question that. Are you really for the people? You know the hardcore questions was gonna come but it was like he was running. You can’t run now because I’m gonna be the first one you talk to. I’ve got members who live out here, you know, that are voting in Clayton County. So I’ma let him know, you know, ‘Hey, we gotta change this up.'”

The Clayton Crescent asked Rose whether he would ask the sheriff about the current state of repairs to doors and locks throughout the jail. Rose said, “Yes, I will add that to my agenda. Thanks for letting me know that.”

As for Allen agreeing to meet with the activists, Rose reiterated, “He pulled up in his car. I didn’t know who he was. I never met him. They said, ‘Here’s the sheriff.’ So I walked over to the car and waved, and he said, ‘I know who you are.’ I said, ‘Well, I’d like to meet with you today because of what’s been going on lately inside the jail since like April.’ He said, ‘Well, we can meet, but when you get done with the press conference, come on up to my office and we can meet.'”

Asked what it meant that Allen was willing to meet, Rose said, “I don’t know,” and that, as far as opening the door, he added, “I guess so. I guess he wants to get the heat off of him, you know. But I’m gonna be honest with the community. If I’m not satisfied with the meeting, I will let people know. You know, don’t just say anything to me and I just take a yes …I’m not like that. So I just want to make sure that he’s gonna be firm and be honest. Because maybe he see y’all cameras out here now, you know. Maybe he’s a little bit intimidated, you know. Why wouldn’t he want to meet with you? I used to meet with people here several times all the time behind closed doors.”

News crews turned out for a press conference about conditions at at the Clayton County called by the New Order National Human Rights Organization, June 2, 2023. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)
News crews turned out for a press conference about conditions at at the Clayton County called by the New Order National Human Rights Organization, June 2, 2023. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Rose said, “Rights are being violated. They’re being violated….When you’re in this jail, it’s home away from home. Temporary. I know a jail is not a hotel. But you know, when you get a call from loved ones saying that it’s your son or daughter has been stabbed or been killed, been murdered, you know, that’s a hard thing to swallow.”

(L-R) Brother Aquil Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Gerald Rose of New Order National Human Rights Organization, and Sister Golda X of the Nation of Islam met with Clayton County Sheriff Levon Allen and toured the Clayton County Jail on June 2, 2023. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Two representatives of the Nation of Islam, Brother Aquil Muhammad and Sister Golda X, also came out to “show support.”

“We’re not out here, Black and white,” Muhammad told reporters. “Some of the employees [accused of misconduct] are Black….We’re always concerned in the Black community, specifically where we live at, for peace. And you know, here in the jail, we do ministry here to help the inmates that are striving to get out of here and do right. So that’s why we’re helping further Brother Rose, and we’re usually here anyway, doing prison ministry. We hear some of the stuff [going on inside the jail], and we would like to be involved in hep getting stuff cleaned up. That’s what we’re about in the community. So that’s why we’re really here.”

Muhammad told reporters, “I would like the sheriff to meet with us and just allow us to help him clean up and minister to the inmates here. We can help by giving the spiritual advice to the inmates and help them on a more positive spiritual course to help themselves get out of the jail.”

WSB’s Tom Jones said, “According to the sheriff, some of the employees need spiritual help.”

Muhammad replied, “That’s always—all of us need spiritual help.”

Rose, Muhammad, and X walked into the Clayton County Jail after the press conference, which lasted about 10 minutes.

News crews watch representatives of New Order National Human Rights Organization and the Nation of Islam entering the Clayton County Jail to meet with Sheriff Levon Allen, June 2, 2023, Jonesboro, GA. NONHRO’s Gerald Rose (Center) had asked Allen for the meeting minutes before. Allen agreed and included a tour of the jail. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

About an hour later, a black GMC Yukon pulled up to the jail entrance. Allen stepped out and entered the jail.

Clayton County Sheriff Levon Allen enters the Clayton County Jail, where he met with representatives of New Order National Human Rights Organization and the Nation of Islam, Jonesboro, GA, June 2, 2023. The activists had called for a meeting with Allen over safety concerns at the jail. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

While news crews waited for the activists to return, trustys trimmed the grass, attorneys and family members came and went, and freshly-bonded-out detainees grumbled. One man who apparently had been released wandered around the parking lot, said he didn’t have his ID, went back inside, then came out and wandered around some more, asking another man for a light, then following The Clayton Crescent’s reporter to the courthouse parking lot, then wandering up Tara Boulevard. A woman complained bitterly to someone on her cell phone about her arrest.

Around 1:30 p.m., the group emerged, escorted by six CCSO employees wearing vests emblazoned with “SHERIFF.”

“The sheriff gave us a tour,” they said.

The Clayton Crescent asked whether they had seen any doors that had been repaired. “Yes, ma’am,” said X.

(L-R): Gerald Rose of New Order National Human Rights Organization and Brother Aquil Muhammad and Sister Golda X of the Nation of Islan, emerge from a meeting and jail tour with Clayton County Sheriff Levon Allen, Jonesboro, GA, June 2, 2023. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

“They got some work to do in there,” Rose replied. “But overall, he said he’s trying, he showed them how the water fountain work in the two cells—we was down with the real hard prisoners.”

“They escorted us like that through the whole jail,” Muhammad said of the CCSO employees walking back to the sally port.

X felt that Allen had been “very open about allowing us to come in, for him to come in and intervene, you know, us coming to minister.”

“Gave me his cell number and everything,” Rose said.

“When you actually see it, as a mother, I came in like, ‘How do I clean this up?'” X said. “So, you have to imagine where he [Allen] is in all this.”

Rose said, “Well, first of all, I want to thank the sheriff for allowing us to come inside the jail. It went from an unofficial meeting to a tour of the jail. So I really want to thank him on that. He kind of explained on a lot of things he was, you know, begging for for money to get things fixed. You know, I did see some stuff that I was questioning. He kind of explained on how, you know, shanks might be made and like that. He was just basically saying, you know, just give him some time, that he only been elected not too long ago, and a lot of stuff didn’t happen on his watch, you know. Some of it did, but he, uh, I think he really cared.”

Allen was sworn in as interim sheriff on December 22, 2022 and elected sheriff by 266 votes (1.76%) in the April 18 runoff.

Rose said he was troubled by “the dorm rooms. How people are sleeping on the floor. But he said of this particular inmate made the decision to sleep on the floor. So when they say he sleep on the floor, his head is by the toilet, because his bunk is on the top floor, on the top bunk. So it was just—being in jail is not a hotel. It basically showed us it’s basic punishment. You know, every time we walked each hall or whatever, you know, they say, ‘Sheriff on deck,’ then they gotta—all the inmates gotta close to the wall for safety reasons. And stuff like that, yeah.”

Hill was known for the “Sheriff on deck!” warning and for having pretrial detainees “face the wall” whenever he passed.

The Clayton Crescent reiterated Rose’s earlier comment about jail being a holding facility for people awaiting trial, as opposed to prison, which is for punishment of inmates who have been convicted of crimes and must serve time.

“That’s true,” Rose said. “And in prison, you’ve got more places to walk around. You know, jail is more restricted to different areas.”

Asked whether Allen had expressed areas of particular concern in the jail, Rose said, “Yes and no. Yes, he did say that there’s certain things that he’s concerned about the safety, how a certain inmate almost escaped because of some kind of thing like that, but I think he’s really concerned. I’m gonna give him a chance. After the tour and all that, I’m gonna give him a chance.”

“Well, first of all we went in his office, and after that, he took us to the pods and stuff,” Rose said. “And we went to one of the pods where there’s some serious murderers and killers and stuff, so he didn’t hide nothing from us, you know, and you can tell how people are separated because of what crime took place and all of that.”

A man makes a delivery to the Clayton County Jail, Jonesboro, GA, June 2, 2023. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Pretrial detainees accused of crimes are, by law, considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The Clayton Crescent does not know the names of or charges against the pretrial detainees the activists saw or spoke with on their tour, and Rose said he did not know the name of one detainee with whom the group spoke. There have been allegations, including one Rose noted during the press conference, of some pretrial detainees being singled out and placed with others who have been charged with more violent crimes, sometimes with the knowledge of officers in the jail.

The Clayton Crescent asked Rose whether he remembered seeing any repairs that had been made to jail doors. On February 21, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners had approved $3,063,951 in emergency repairs at the jail. Allen has yet to provide the public with a progress report as to the state of door and lock repairs at the jail.

In April, a contract nurse who had been attacked at the jail, Assonda Paul, told The Clayton Crescent that the jail was still in the process of fixing doors and that she had heard the jail was "testing new door locks before they invest—that’s what I’m just hearing as a layperson who doesn’t have anything to do with projects and what they’re doing. But that’s what I’ve heard, that they’re testing to see if these locks are gonna be a good investment, I guess, on Housing Unit 3, Section 6. So they moved all those females to the dorms. But that’s a major, major, major thing, like doors not locking. That’s why so many inmates are being injured.”

“I don’t remember seeing any,” he said, turning to Muhammad and X. “Did y’all see any?”

“The lights,” Muhammad said. “You remember the overhead lights?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Rose replied.

“The lights were what they were using to make the shanks to stab people,” X said. “So once he figured out that that’s how they were making the shanks, then he made the initiative to find and replace the lights. So they had more rectangular lights before, so you could see where they changed the lights to the circular lights, and that’s supposed to be the reason why they were able to make the shanks. So he’s doing things, I think that one of the main issues that he has is just, once he gets something in place, it’s just about the timing that it takes to execute it. In that timeframe, things continue to happen, so he’s just racing time. A a lot of it is racing time.”

Rose said he thinks Allen can correct the problems at the jail.

“He stopped also a young man that got stabbed, too,” Rose said, turning to the others. “Remember the young man he stopped?”

“Yes, yes,” Muhammad and X replied.

“Got stabbed in the head but he was one—he was one that was transferred to another pod, but for some reason, he went back into the same pod, he got stabbed, and the sheriff said, ‘Why did you go in the same pod where you got stabbed at?’ And he was like, you know, his answer was like, you know, so basically saying that he brought that on his own. This was a Hispanic guy.”

Rose said they had not toured the infirmary, nor had they seen any other people who had been stabbed.

“We seen some guy that had got shot in the arm, but he was from another city and state that he came here,” Rose said.

Muhammad said Allen also talked about the problems with CCSO employees.

“He said he’s about getting the employees that the inmates and everybody—he wants to get everybody taken care of. He don’t want nobody in there committing crimes, he wanted the inmates looked after, he’s doing a good job, ” Muhammad said. “My concern, he gave us a tour, he’s doing a good job, he just needs time.”

The Clayton Crescent asked about any concerns the group had expressed to Allen during the tour.

“We had some questions when we was in his office,” Rose said. “As far as the tour, no, ’cause he kept it real. We went in some dorm, somebody had some stuff painted on the wall, you know, because they got an inspection coming up—when is this? Like real soon?”

“Real soon, real soon” Muhammad said.

“He’s in there, trying to get the place cleaned up,” Rose continued. “Inspection coming soon.”

“I don’t know,” Rose said.

“He is. He’s inspecting,” Muhammad said. “He’s the sheriff. He’s gotta inspect it.”

The group did not state whether an outside agency, such as the Georgia Department of Corrections or a federal agency was going to inspect the Clayton County Jail.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff recently had singled out the Clayton County Jail as one of three nationwide (another was the Fulton County Jail) for increased scrutiny and questioned whether the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council had submitted complete data on all inmate deaths in custody.

The concerns, Rose said, included “first of all, the violence that’s going on, how the employees is making bad decisions…it’s just basically you want to make sure of everybody’s safety, employees and the inmates.”

“My concern is with employees that are face-to-face with the inmates,” X said. “We see that the supervisors, they are in order. But the ones that are face-to-face, we need to make sure that they are in order, as well. Not ignoring inmates when inmates are trying to tell them something, you know. Making sure that, because those are the people that are right there when a stabbing would happen, those are the first contact when there are concerns that are being raised….They at least need to make sure that there is accountability for those that are at the bottom, so that you can keep things in order.”

Rose said, “First of all, we did ask for, going forward, we just want to make sure that all inmates and employees are safe. Any employees doing something illegal you know, they need to be charged crime and stuff like that, so they know they’re being watched.”

We asked whether Allen had asked for anything from the community during the meeting.

“Trust,” Rose said. “He said, ‘Please trust me. It’s gonna take some time.”

The Clayton Crescent tried to reach Allen for comment about this story through the number posted on CCSO’s county website. We asked for the public information officer and were routed to an unknown recipient’s voice mail. The Clayton Crescent left a message for an unknown recipient at CCSO but did not receive a call back by press time. Should we receive a response, we will update this story.

In Depth

Read The Clayton Crescent’s ongoing coverage of conditions at the Clayton County Jail:

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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