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Advocates call for justice for family of man who died of neglectful treatment inside Fulton jail

Bedbugs and lice infested Lashawn Thompson's body as he died inside the psychiatric wing of his Fulton County jail cell.

ATLANTA — A Fulton County Jail inmate found dead and covered in bedbugs died from an irregular heartbeat caused by dehydration, rapid weight loss and untreated schizophrenia.  

That’s according to a private autopsy delivered to the family of Lashawn Thompson, who was found dead in the jail in September.  

Advocates said the release of the new information fuels calls for jail reform and for Fulton County to get serious about compensating monetarily the family of Lashawn Thompson.

"This is inexcusable," said attorney Michael Harper Monday. "This should never happen in any jail in America."

Though Lashawn Thompson’s body was found in the Fulton County Jail covered with lice and bedbugs, an autopsy commissioned by his family -- and funded by activist and former NFL star Colin Kaepernick -- concluded it was cardiac arrhythmia that likely killed him.

RELATED: 'Severe neglect' listed as cause of death for man eaten alive by bed bugs at Fulton jail, autopsy shows

Attorney Ben Crump called it "criminal negligence" at a news conference Monday, saying that Brittney Griner had better conditions inside her Russian prison cell than Thompson did inside the Fulton County Jail.

"Somebody needs to be held accountable for this. Somebody need to account to this family," Crump said.

Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat has said the jail’s chronic overcrowding, the county’s inability to fully staff the jail, and years of disrepair has created an ongoing crisis inside the northwest Atlanta lockup. But aside from reforming or rebuilding the jail, advocates said Fulton County owes a monetary settlement to Thompson’s family.

"Who’s responsible? Whose duty was it to make sure my nephew came out alive?" asked Karo Thompson, the dead detainee's uncle.

But like all Georgia counties, Fulton is protected in court by sovereign immunity. It means counties can’t easily be sued for injury or wrongful death claims. It also protects county employees. There are exceptions – but they are rare.

That’s among the things motivating attorneys to turn this into a political issue, to get the attention of county commissioners who would have to approve a monetary settlement for Thompson’s family.

A private medical provider, whose contract was terminated after news of Thompson's death, could be a possible defendant in a lawsuit.

"We must make this family whole. This cannot happen in Fulton County," Harper said. 

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