by Robin Kemp

The Clayton County Heath District confirms, following an investigation by The Clayton Crescent, that at least one male inmate of the Clayton County Jail died of COVID-19 on June 7, 2020.

At least 68 inmates were known to have COVID-19 as of July 6, according to county health officials.

“I investigated further and I was able to find out that yes, there was a COVID-19 related death at the jail,” said District Epidemiologist Dr. Olatanwa Adewale. “The issue was that the individual was transported to the jail from a LTCF (long-term care facility), therefore the address on file for him was for the LTCF.”

The Clayton Crescent has spoken with another inmate who claimed, in the presence of his attorney, that an inmate died on a toilet and was left there for some period of time while jail staff allegedly decided who should retrieve the body.

An inmate in the Clayton County Jail improvises a face mask from a towel while awaiting a Magistrate Court appearance via Zoom

Four inmates are suing Sheriff Victor Hill and CCSO staff in federal district court, alleging that conditions at the jail are helping to spread COVID-19. Hill’s legal advisor, Alan Parker, said on July 2, “There is no outbreak of COVID-19 in our facility.”

Clayton County Jail inmates wearing face masks, some improvised from towels and underwear, crowd together as they await Magistrate Court appearances via Zoom due to COVID-19

In May, Parker told CCSO spokesman Philip Price that the jail had no records responsive to The Clayton Crescent’s open records request for the jail’s COVID-19 statistics. A second request for that information was filed July 2 and remains pending as of press time.

“He said he had walked past the cell, I think he said three or four times within a two-hour period. And the guy was sitting on the toilet. He said in his third pass, he thought to himself, like, ‘Aight, aight, this guy just can’t be sitting on the toilet in the same position for two hours. He wouldn’t.’ So the guy died on the toilet and stuff. Sitting there.”

–Inmate who spoke in his lawyer’s presence on condition of anonymity

According to the inmate who spoke with The Clayton Crescent in the presence of his attorney and on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation behind bars, one inmate allegedly died on a jail cell toilet in June. The source alleged that he had overheard a conversation between two corrections officers about sending someone to retrieve the body:

“I don’t even know why they let me hear this conversation, but there was the officer that brings me up, the phone rings, inside the dorm. And it’s an officer calling from control, saying that they, it was a she, they knew it was a work release inmate. I mean, they knew it was a inmate worker because they’d seen it on the camera. They just didn’t know which one it was. But one of the inmate workers tried to send out a text saying that they had him working in the dead man’s cell. This is the guy, one of the guys that had corona inside the infirmary, died a little more than a week ago [early to mid-June]. I want to think it was about, yeah, just a little more than a week ago. Uh, the inmate, again, inmate workers, walking back, back and forth inside the infirmary, that’s supposed to be quarantined, that’s supposed to be taped off ‘cause it’s a quarantine. But the inmate workers are walking back and forth and still coming to our side of the jail….He said he had walked past the cell, I think he said three or four times within a two-hour period. And the guy was sitting on the toilet. He said in his third pass, he thought to himself, like, ‘Aight, aight, this guy just can’t be sitting on the toilet in the same position for two hours. He wouldn’t.’ So the guy died on the toilet and stuff. Sitting there.”

The Clayton Crescent has asked CCSO to confirm whether an inmate recently died on a toilet in a jail cell. It is not clear whether the inmate the source describes died of COVID-19 or another cause, nor whether this is the same inmate whose death the County health department confirmed.

The source also claimed that jail staff allegedly did not want to deal with the man’s body:

“He said that they had another inmate said that he had asked for help, you know, but they, you know, they’re hesitant on going in here to help these guys. That’s going back to the conversation on the phone call when, while they’re looking for this guy that may, that sent the text message out. Uh, another inmate worker is telling that same officer. He said, ‘Oh, we got a guy.’ He said ‘the guy at eight.’ And apparently they already knew about it because the inmate worker said, ‘the guy in eight, in 8402,’ he said, ‘he’s been asking y’all to come down here for a couple of days. Y’all know he got that.’ He said, ‘You know, y’all know he got that shit. And uh, he’s been asking for you guys to come down here.’ This officer out his mouth said this, ‘But I’m not going down there to mess with nobody sick. I’ll make a phone call and we’ll try to get somebody down there.’”

“…they only have two nurses on the back end and a nurse that’s in the intake area that’s supposed to stay there on duty so that they can make sure that everybody comes and get their TB shot, and [get] checked out, and all of that. They fight amongst the three, as far as who’s going to come up and give us our temperature.”

–Inmate who spoke in his lawyer’s presence on condition of anonymity

The source also claimed that nurses in the infirmary allegedly argued about who would take inmates’ temperatures:

“When you think jail infirmary, you think that it’s an actual infirmary to where you have, you know, like hospital beds or a monitor or some type of monitoring system, anything like that? No, it’s basically solitary cells,” he said. “It’s a cell with one bed to where they have just one person laying in the cell. When these people are down there suffering and going (through) whatever they have going on with the virus, they can’t be monitored correctly because they’re not hooked up to any machines.”

He described how the infirmary staff interacted with inmates:

“The doctor comes and goes…he comes and goes maybe once or twice a week. The rest of the week is just nurses, RNs down there. And the most is three at a time. We know that because now, they’re complaining because they only have two nurses on the back end and a nurse that’s in the intake area that’s supposed to stay there on duty so that they can make sure that everybody comes and get their TB shot, and [get] checked out, and all of that. They fight amongst the three, as far as who’s going to come up and give us our temperature. And that’s all they’re doing when we come in, is giving temperatures. The first week of the scare when, uh, he [Sheriff Victor Hill] finally started to go ahead and comply to some of what the state was saying.”

The news comes amid federal lawsuits filed against Hill and CCSO brass by inmates who allege inadequate COVID-19 prevention measures and abuse of restraint chairs.

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