As former President Donald Trump prepares to surrender in Atlanta on Thursday to face charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, we speak with journalist George Chidi, who has documented the inhumane conditions inside the Fulton County Jail, where Trump will appear before a judge. “A lot of people are getting killed” inside the jail, says Chidi. “The jail is the largest mental health provider in this county, and that’s a tragedy all on its own.” He also discusses the death of Lashawn Thompson, who was found dead inside his cell after being eaten alive by insects, according to family. Chidi writes The Atlanta Objective newsletter, and his recent piece for Atlanta magazine is headlined “The real behind the wall: A look inside the infamous, deadly Fulton County Jail.”
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Atlanta, Georgia, where Donald Trump has announced he’ll turn himself in at the Fulton County Jail Thursday. Trump’s bond has been set at $200,000. This all comes a week after Trump and 18 co-defendants were indicted by a grand jury for running a criminal enterprise to overturn the 2020 election, in a case brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Trump has now been indicted four times since late March, but unlike the other indictments, this will be the first time he must pay cash bond. It will also be the first time cameras will be allowed in the courtroom.
Joining us in Atlanta is George Chidi, independent journalist in Atlanta, writes The Atlanta Objective Substack newsletter and is co-host of the podcast King Slime. He was recently subpoenaed to testify before the Fulton County grand jury in the Trump investigation but did not end up testifying. In December 2020, he stumbled upon a secret meeting at the Georgia state House of Republicans plotting to overturn the election by submitting a slate of fake electors. George Chidi has also reported on the dire conditions inside the Fulton County Jail, where 15 people died last year, including Lashawn Thompson, who was eaten alive by insects and bedbugs in his cell. George Chidi’s recent piece for Atlanta magazine is headlined “The real behind the wall: A look inside the infamous, deadly Fulton County Jail.”
George, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Before we go to why you were subpoenaed and your stumbling on that fake electors meeting, let’s talk about where President Donald Trump is turning himself in on Thursday, the Fulton County Jail that you’ve investigated so well. Explain what this jail is all about, why it is so notorious.
GEORGE CHIDI: Well, it’s notorious in part because a lot of people are getting killed in it. Before the pandemic, the jail might have two or three deaths in a year. Last year there were 15. And they’re up to seven this year, four in the last 30 days.
The conditions are terrible. The infrastructure is falling apart. And the infrastructure is actually difficult to repair, because repair people are afraid to go in because the level of supervision isn’t safe, in their opinion. The medical services provider pulled out and had to be dragged back in by the county. They have a tremendous staffing problem, which is sort of emblematic of what’s going on in law enforcement in general, but in Fulton County it is an acute problem that is getting people killed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, George, isn’t the responsibility for the conditions in the jail a responsibility of the local government in Atlanta, which is largely a Democratic administration?
GEORGE CHIDI: Well, that’s correct. The sheriff is elected. The sheriff is a Democrat. The mayor is a Democrat. The city’s administrative bodies are all run by Democrats, for the most part.
Like, we’re talking about a systemic problem that is expressing itself, you know, in a problem in the jail. That jail is overfull because it’s overfull with people who largely shouldn’t be there. The most common charge for somebody being jailed is criminal trespassing, which could be, you know, painting something on a wall, shoplifting. Five percent of the people in there are in there for shoplifting charges, including the fellow who died last Thursday.
AMY GOODMAN: Last month, the Justice Department announced it’s opened a civil investigation into the conditions in the Fulton County Jail in Georgia. This is Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke.
KRISTEN CLARKE: We will examine living conditions in the Fulton County Jail, access to medical care and mental healthcare, use of excessive force by staff, and conditions that may give rise to violence between people incarcerated at the facility. The investigation will also examine whether the Fulton County Jail discriminates against incarcerated people with psychiatric disabilities.
AMY GOODMAN: The people incarcerated in the Fulton County Jail are predominantly people of color, with data showing 87% of the jail population is Black. If you can talk about Lashawn Thompson, who people may remember how he died, but the horror that, for the country, somewhat blew open or put Fulton County Jail on the map — again, the place that President Trump is going to turn himself in to on Thursday, George?
GEORGE CHIDI: Gotcha. So, Lashawn Thompson was found facedown in the toilet in his cell, and he was covered in insects, lice. People have described him as exsanguinated. That’s not exactly correct. That’s a bit of hyperbole. But he died in squalor. He died like no human being should. And he died in part because, you know, a jailer wasn’t checking on him regularly. He was in their psych ward, and they missed him, because there was negligence. And plainly there was negligence, because the county just settled for $4 million in that case.
But he’s one of 15 people. And when you start drilling down into the other deaths that have occurred, two people were murdered. One was strangled in his bed. The people are dying of preventable illnesses. And a lot of it is tied to mental health problems. The jail is the largest mental health provider in this county. And that’s a tragedy all on its own and has to stop.