We look at the dire conditions inside the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, where Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants were recently booked. Ten prisoners have now died in the jail’s custody just this year — the latest on Sunday. Shawndre Delmore had been incarcerated pretrial for five months before he was found unresponsive in a cell on August 31. Delmore’s family is demanding answers as to why a previously healthy 24-year-old would so suddenly suffer from cardiac arrest, and is calling for an immediate independent investigation into conditions at the jail, which is already under federal investigation. “This is systemic. This is not a one-off,” says the family’s attorney Mawuli Mel Davis, whose firm represents three other families with relatives that have died at the jail in the past two years. In 2022, Fulton County Jail recorded 15 in-custody deaths, including that of Lashawn Thompson, a 35-year-old Black man who was “eaten alive” by insects and bedbugs in his cell. We also speak to Davis about another client, the family of Johnny Hollman Sr., a 62-year-old Black grandfather and church deacon who died after a traffic stop in August, and about the Republican Georgia attorney general’s sweeping indictment of 61 Cop City protesters on RICO charges. “This is fascism,” warns Davis. “This is an attempt to have a chilling effect on people who are organizing against police violence.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We end today’s show in Atlanta with an update from the Fulton County Jail, where Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants face RICO charges, were recently processed. The jail was in the spotlight before Trump arrived, after it came under federal investigation for the death of Lashawn Thompson, who was allegedly “eaten alive” by insects and bedbugs while living in filth imprisoned in his cell. His family reached a $4 million settlement with Fulton County last month.
Now another man has died in Fulton County custody, the 10th this year. Twenty-four-year-old Shawndre Delmore was found unresponsive in his cell August 31st after spending five months in the Fulton County Jail. Preliminary findings show the otherwise healthy Delmore died Sunday of cardiac arrest. He was given a compassionate release bond the day after he was taken to the hospital. His family said by the time they were told Delmore was in intensive care, there was no brain activity. This is his mother, Natasha Holoman.
NATASHA HOLOMAN: My son was so loving. He wouldn’t harm anybody. He didn’t deserve to die like this. He had his whole life ahead of him. I can’t even understand getting a phone call saying he’s in ICU. I wasn’t expecting to see my son in the condition that he was in when I came out here. I thought I would be able to take my son with me back home, but that didn’t happen. And I want answers. I want to know what happened to my son. I want to know why he had to die.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Mawuli Mel Davis, attorney for the family of Shawndre Delmore.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Thanks for joining us from Atlanta. Explain what you understand happened. I was finding it hard to say the prison granted him “compassionate release,” in light of what has taken place.
MAWULI MEL DAVIS: Good morning, Amy.
And this is, again, another tragedy in the Fulton County Jail. And what happened is a mystery to this family, to all of us. Shawndre was, by all accounts, a healthy 24-year-old, who they say has died as a result of cardiac arrest. So, right now as we speak, we are preparing for a second independent autopsy, so that we can try to get some answers that this family so desperately deserves.
But this is systemic. This is not a one-off, as you mentioned in the intro. This has been ongoing in the Fulton County Jail. Our firm has three other families who have lost loved ones in the Fulton County Jail over the last 18 months.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to understand what took place before last Sunday, Shawndre was 24 years old, found unresponsive in his cell. And then what happened?
MAWULI MEL DAVIS: Then, it’s our understanding that there was some delay in performing in an attempt to resuscitate him, and then he was transported to Grady Hospital. By the time he was at Grady Hospital, from all the reports that the family has received, he was already likely brain dead. And they arrived. There was no brain activity. They had no conversations with him. He was nonresponsive by the time they arrived, and they flew in from Louisiana the very next day that they heard the news. And so, again, it’s really inexplicable how this could happen to a healthy young man. And we have not received any answers.
And so, we’re really asking for an extraordinary measure by the Fulton County sheriff to release and open the jail up and allow us access to go in, view video for ourselves, as well as do interviews with the inmates who were present, as well as the detention officers who were present. And the reason that this is unprecedented is that, in most instances, they want you to wait until their investigation is over. At this stage, with as many deaths as they’ve had, it’s our position that we should have equal access and be performing our investigation at the same time they’re performing theirs, because theirs have delivered no answers. And again, it has not ended this crisis in the Fulton County Jail.
AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, 24-year-old Shawndre Delmore was healthy before. He has a healthy twin, right? A young woman —
MAWULI MEL DAVIS: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: — as well, who has just lost her brother. Now, can you explain what a compassionate release bond is? I mean, if he is granted this in the hospital, does it mean it doesn’t count as a Fulton County Jail death?
MAWULI MEL DAVIS: You know, that issue is what we were very concerned with, is: Was this an attempt to really try to have his death go under the radar, and release him so that it would not, in fact, be a part of this growing number of deaths inside of the jail? Again, the explanation given to the family was that he was given this compassionate release because they would be able to have greater access to him while he was in the hospital. And so, it’s, again, unclear what the motivation was, but we’re very suspicious. The whole system right now is failing the inmates. It’s failing the citizens of Fulton County. And it’s, you know, arguably the most dangerous jail in America right now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have called for the release of prisoners, and I’m wondering if you can talk about this. Last summer, after an overcrowding crisis, officials added more jail space. Did this solve the issue?
MAWULI MEL DAVIS: Clearly, it did not. So, the idea that this country can or even this county can lock its way out of what they believe is a crisis, it’s not working. The bottom line is, we have people, like Shawndre, who has really a nonviolent offense, sitting in jail for five months on a $5,000 bond, who should have been released, period. That’s it.
And so, what really needs to happen is they need to go through and look at all of the folks who are currently incarcerated, and begin to release people, because it is too dangerous. They should not have a death sentence because they have been accused of a crime. And that is what’s happening right now in Fulton County. Essentially, if you are in Fulton County, it’s at your own risk of your life that you have been arrested. It could be a traffic stop for forgetting to pay a ticket, and you end up in the jail and dead. That’s absurd. And that’s what — the experience that we have been suffering under here for not just this year. It’s 10 this year. It was 15 last year.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned traffic stop or dealing with the police in traffic. This is different from the jail. But today in Atlanta, the family of Johnny Hollman Sr., the 62-year-old church deacon killed during an Atlanta police officer-involved incident last month, will be viewing the body-camera footage. Hollman had called the police for help himself after a minor traffic accident. His daughter said she was on the phone with her dad when a struggle took place with the officers, and said she heard him say, “I can’t breathe,” then beg for help. What happened there? You’re representing his family?
MAWULI MEL DAVIS: We are. And what we have been able to watch, we actually had a meeting last week with the individual he had the collision with, who filmed at least part of the encounter with Deacon Hollman and this police officer. We could hear him begging. We could hear him saying, “I can’t breathe.” And we could hear the aggression of this officer and the continued assault against this 62-year-old elder.
And today, the city of Atlanta will provide the family access to see the video footage. Unfortunately, it’s not being released to the public. But at this point, the family has to have some answers, because this was a minor traffic accident, where he called the police, and then he ends up dead.
So, there’s a lot going on here in Atlanta and in the state of Georgia that the country should be watching, we should all be concerned about. And, you know, young people from the Atlanta University Center yesterday staged a protest, where they marched from the Atlanta University Center to the CNN Center to try to bring about some national attention on the death of Johnny Hollman Sr. So, this is a crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to get to one last thing, and that is, you’re on the board for the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is organizing lawyers to help represent 61 people indicted in Georgia on racketeering charges connected to the Stop Cop City movement, the attorney general bringing these charges, RICO charges, almost as a kind of response to Donald Trump being indicted on RICO charges. But your comment on this and what these 61 people face, also some charged with domestic terrorism?
MAWULI MEL DAVIS: This is something, again, that we should all be concerned with. This is fascism. This is an attempt to silence people who are exercising their First Amendment right. This is an attempt to have a chilling effect on people who are organizing against police violence, who are organizing to try to stop this ongoing assault on citizens.
There has been no way — there has been no indication that the training center that is being proposed would have saved the life of Johnny Hollman — no way — because it really does not center the people. It does not address the crises in the culture of Atlanta policing and American policing, which is our lives really don’t matter, and so violence against us is absolutely acceptable at every level, at every aspect of the criminal justice system.
AMY GOODMAN: Mawuli Mel Davis, I want to thank you for being with us, attorney for the family of 24-year-old Shawndre Delmore, who died Sunday after he was found unresponsive in his Fulton County Jail cell after spending five months there. Delmore is the 10th person this year to die in custody of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office.