Jail where inmate was allegedly "eaten alive" by bedbugs being investigated
The Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into the conditions at a Georgia jail where an inmate died after he was, according to his family, "eaten alive" by bed bugs.
The department found credible allegations that the Fulton County Jail is "structurally unsafe, that prevalent violence has resulted in serious injuries and homicides, and that officers are being prosecuted for using excessive force," officials said Thursday. Investigators will determine whether there are systemic violations of federal law at the jail and how to correct them if that's the case.
"The recent allegations of filthy housing teeming with insects, rampant violence resulting in death and injuries and officers using excessive force are cause for grave concern and warrant a thorough investigation," U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan for the Northern District of Georgia said.
The Justice Department investigation will also cover whether Fulton County and the Fulton County Sheriff's Office discriminate against inmates with psychiatric disabilities. Lashawn Thompson, the 35-year-old man who died in September of last year after he was "eaten alive" by bed bugs, was dealing with untreated schizophrenia at the jail, according to an independent autopsy report.
Fulton County and the sheriff's office said they were aware of the investigation and "will be cooperating fully."
Thompson died three months after he was booked into the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta following a June arrest. He'd suffered insect bites to his ears, mouth, nose and all over his body, Ben Crump and Michael Harper, attorneys for Thompson's family, said.
"While nothing can undo the injustice that Lashawn Thompson faced, it is a tragedy that can hopefully amount to much needed change inside of the Fulton County Jail," the attorneys said Thursday in a joint statement. "It is our prayer that the DOJ confirms the clear pattern of negligence and abuse that happens in Fulton County and swiftly ends it so that no other family experiences this devastation."
The Fulton County Sheriff's Office, which is responsible for the administration and operation of the Fulton County Jail, in April said there would be "sweeping changes" at the jail after Thompson's death. Sheriff Patrick Labat said at the time he asked for the resignations of the chief jailer, assistant chief jailer and assistant chief jailer of the criminal investigative division, following a preliminary investigation. They all resigned.
Aliza Chasan is a digital producer at 60 Minutes and CBS News.