ATLANTA — Community members protested at Woodruff Park, demanding justice for a man they claim died in custody and was eaten alive by bed bugs and insects.
Lashawn Thompson was 35 years old when he died on Sept. 13, 2022. That was three months after being booked into the Fulton County Jail, in Atlanta, after he was unable to pay his $2,500 bail.
More than four organizations gathered to call for justice for Lashawn Thompson.
Devin Barrington-Ward protested on behalf of Communities Over Cages ATL.
"Hollywood couldn't come up with a script more scary—eaten alive by bed bugs," Barrington-Ward said.
Though the cause of death has not been determined, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Lashawn Thompson's family, said his cell conditions were deplorable. He believes Thompson was neglected during the three months he was housed inside the jail's psychiatric wing.
Jermaine Stubbs is an organizer with Party for Socialism and Liberation or PSL.
"What happened to Mr. Thompson is basically a microcosm of the prison system here in America, which is racist," Stubbs said.
Thompson was brought to the psych wing because the jail was aware he was schizophrenic, his family said in an interview.
Brittany Burns protested, representing Justice for Georgia.
"We don't know what he could have done with his life, but what we do know is that due to him not being able to afford 2,500 dollars worth of bail, Fulton County jail decided his life doesn't matter," Burn said, "His hygiene doesn't matter."
Lashawn Thompson’s brother said no one deserves to die such a horrible death. The pictures of Thompson's dead body covered in sores and bites are graphic, and the pictures of his cell show the filthy conditions.
"He was definitely a heavy-set guy and from those pictures, he looks totally different," McCrae said. "He's not the same person."
Photos | Man covered in bed bugs, found dead in filthy conditions inside Fulton County Jail
Harper said they plan on filing a lawsuit against the Fulton County Sheriff and detention officers once they get proof from their own investigation that the bug bites led to his death. They expect that will happen within the next two months.
"It could be your family member so we just want people to stand up, talk about it and get it to the public," he said.
Belkis Teran is the mother of Manuel Esteban Paez, who was shot and killed during a protest against Atlanta's new law enforcement center in January. She says she came to support.
"There are people that are innocent are dying all over the country—not only here, all over the country," Teran said, "And the jail system doesn't care."
Not long after the family made their public allegations against the jail, Sheriff "Pat" Labat announced some major changes, including requesting the resignations of several of the jail's staff. He also announced plans to explore the possibility of switching medical providers for inmates in the jail's custody.
The funds will also help with medical care, sanitation, security cameras, and more.
The investments will include:
- $2.1 million for devices to provide real-time tracking of detainee heart rate and blood pressure in the Medical and Psychiatric Units
- $485,000 for Sanitizing and Clinical-grade sanitizing and decontamination of all medical and psychiatric observation units
- $630,000 for 4D imaging of mail contents to detect narcotics and other contraband in mail sent to inmates
- $1.1 million for 91 additional Jail Surveillance Cameras
- $1 million for additional emergency management support with Emergency Management Services, Inc.
Additionally, the board approved $869,893 for the next phase of its Jail Feasibility study, which supports the push for a new Fulton County Jail.
Dominique Grant is an organizer at Women on the Rise.
"Last year, as Lashawn Thompson was dying on the floors of Fulton County Jail, we were at Atlanta City Council and at Fulton County commissioners meeting begging to find ways to get people off of the floors of this prison," Grant said.
The protesters say they want the jail completely shut down, as well as the prison system as a whole.
"We cannot continue to allow the people that work for us to have blood on their hands," Grant said, "The blood started at the jail, and it continues to trickle down to the Atlanta city council and our commissioners."