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Family pleads for answers in man's Fulton County Jail death

William Barnett died in custody in July. His family says they were told it was a cardiac issue, but they believe he was beaten.

ATLANTA — A family says it is being stonewalled by officials and still searching for answers nearly two months after a father of four died in Fulton County Jail.

According to his family, William Barnett died 24 hours after being brought from the jail to Grady Hospital, where he was released without issue. They've been told he died of a cardiac issue, but contend that when they saw his body, it clearly appeared like he had been beaten.

The family says the explanation they were given for his appearance was that his injuries were self-inflicted, from an episode he'd had in his cell.

Georgia public health officials say his cause of death remains pending on the death certificate, and a public affairs officer for the Fulton County Sheriff's Office said Barnett's death remains under investigation.

Credit: WXIA

"They're saying that they're investigating, but if you're saying that he did it to himself, what is there to investigate?" asked his sister, Erica Martin.

An attorney for the family, Michael Harper, says the law enforcement agencies that could provide the answers Barnett's loved ones are seeking have been evasive, instead of transparent.

Harper characterized the death as "suspicious" and said "we do not believe" the official version of events.

"The jail will not give us any answers regarding this death," he said. "No videos, no incident reports. This family is hurting."

"We're being told that he died of a cardiac issue, but the post-mortem clearly show this man was beaten to death," Harper added.

Barnett's sister, Martin, said what she saw were "clearly not self-inflicted wounds."

"Actually some of them were defense wounds," she said.

11Alive was shown pictures from Barnett's autopsy. They showed cuts to his hands, limbs and forehead, as well as scattered bruising.

Records show Barnett was booked on July 15 under a misdemeanor theft by taking charge. He died a week later.

"You know, nobody's perfect, but nobody deserves to have their life taken," Martin said. "I know that he was a good person. He was a father, a brother, a son. He was a provider, he was a protector, and it just saddens my heart."

She said their lingering questions have denied them a chance to properly grieve his death.

"We want to know who did this to him, who beat him - why," she said. "Give us the reports, let us know the people who found him. We can ask them the questions. We don't know anything, it's just very hard to deal with."

"We know that he died here at the jail. We don't know how he died, or why he died, and so far the family has received very little information," Harper said. "And if it was a cardiac issue, it had to be a result of being beaten, and that could've been what caused the cardiac issue."

The family is asking anyone working within the jail, or any inmates who were there the same time as Barnett, to help them with any information they might have.

"We often hear about these men being killed by police, killed at the jail, it seems like society has become numb to this issue," Harper said. "That it happens so often that we hear about it and we're not outraged."

"But we should all be outraged at what happened to William Barnett."

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