By Kristal Dixon | Atlanta Journal-Constititution | February 19, 2020
At least 10 civil rights organizations are calling for an independent investigation of conditions inside the Cobb County jail following extensive complaints about the treatment inmates receive and a string of deaths there in the past year.
Groups including the Cobb chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, ACLU of Georgia, La Gente de Cobb, Cobb Smart Justice, the Cobb branch of the NAACP and KSUnited have started a petition calling for Sheriff Neil Warren to investigate the problems.
The petition, which carries about 80 signatures and a letter signed by the community organizations, will be sent to Cobb County’s legislative delegation and the Marietta City Council.
About 50 residents attended a community meeting Tuesday night at Zion Baptist Church in Marietta to talk about problems with the jail. It was the second community meeting held this year on reports of mistreatment inside the jail.
Sally Riddle of the group Cobb Smart Justice: Cobb Coalition for Public Safety said the organizations hope Warren, who oversees the jail, will “order a top to bottom independent evaluation” of its policies, procedures, staffing, infirmary operations and jail employee training. Riddle said she hopes to have the petition and letter finalized by Friday. She said the petition will be similar to the one she and other organizations sent a few years ago to the Cobb County Police Department asking the agency to address perceptions of racism within its ranks.
Warren issued a response Wednesday, saying that he is responsible for providing a “safe and secure environment for inmates as well as our staff” at the Adult Detention Center.”
Considering the size and complexity of operating the CCADC, I continue to be proud of the work our team is doing,” he said in a written statement. “In fact, despite the divisive and inflammatory accusations by some, the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office remain steadfast in their commitment to professionally serve our community. It should be pointed out that we follow strict guidelines for providing health care and assuring that nutritional needs are met all while providing a safe and secure environment.”
The Cobb Adult Detention Center has experienced seven in-custody deaths since December 2018. Those inmates are Reginald Wilson, Jessie Myles, Bradley Emory, William Kocour, Steven Davis, Kevil Wingo and Christopher Hart.
The deaths of all but two inmates have been determined as natural causes: Davis’s death was classified as undetermined while Hart’s death remains under investigation. The deaths have sparked criticism from residents and families, local activists and civil rights organizations, which are calling on Sheriff Warren to address their concerns about medical care for inmates and jail staffing levels.
Former inmates and family members of people currently incarcerated at the Adult Detention Center recounted their experiences on Tuesday. No one from the Sheriff’s Office attended the town hall. Several family members said their loved ones, some of whom have dietary restrictions, have suffered significant weight loss during their time inside the Adult Detention Center.
One woman, Andrea Stewart, said her 19-year-old son has lost more than 30 pounds over the last four months. While inmates are fed three meals a day, some of the speakers said those with dietary restrictions are not provided alternatives.
“I can’t believe I’m hearing these stories about a Detention Center,” Stewart said.Another woman, Ivy Treadwell-Garcia, was incarcerated for six months at the Adult Detention Center. Treadwell-Garcia, who was released in October, said she has severe food allergies. When she was booked into the jail, her EpiPen was confiscated and she was told she would not have access to an alternative treatment for an allergic reaction.
To avoid an allergic reaction, Treadwell-Garcia said for the first 15 days she drank Ensure meal replacement shakes in place of solid food. She said she eventually lost 30 pounds during her incarceration.
“My parents were extremely worried (because) I was emaciated,” she said. Rebecca Carlson, a cousin of William Kocour, an inmate who died Sept. 10 from cirrhosis of the liver, said the family sent the jail staff a list of medications Kocour was taking for his condition. She said the family does not believe Kocour was given his medications because his condition deteriorated quickly.
After being told Kocour had been taken from the jail to a hospital, a family member arrived to find him unconscious, with legs so swollen that “they could not get the shackles on his legs.” He later died in the hospital.
“I definitely think he was not given the proper medical care or treatment,” Carson said, adding Kocour’s body was removed for an autopsy before they were told he died.
Wanda Webb, who also has a 19-year-old son at the facility, said her son told her Tuesday that he was thinking about taking a plea deal “because he wanted to get out of there.”
Webb told the audience that her son and other inmates have all made mistakes, but it’s time the community to step forward and take action.