Family calls for justice after death of inmate allegedly 'eaten alive' by bedbugs

Some Atlanta jail staff members resigned after his death.

April 20, 2023, 2:52 PM

An investigation into the death of a man whose family claims he was "eaten alive by insects and bedbugs" in an Atlanta jail has led to "sweeping changes," according to the Fulton County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Patrick "Pat" Labat said in a statement Monday that he's asked for and received the resignations of multiple employees of the Fulton County Jail: the chief jailer, assistant chief jailer and the assistant chief jailer of the site's Criminal Investigative Division.

The resignations come after the lawyer of LaShawn Thompson's family said last week that Thompson's body was discovered in a "filthy jail cell" on Sept. 13, 2022, after medical staff allegedly ignored his declining health. According to family attorney Ben Crump, authorities found Thompson with over 1,000 insect bites "all over his body."

"They literally watched his health decline until he died. When his body was found, one of the detention officers refused to administer CPR because in her words, she 'freaked out,'" the family's attorney, Michael Harper, wrote in an April 12 Facebook post. "He did not deserve this. Someone has to be held accountable for his death."

Although there are graphic images of Thompson's jail cell and his body and face after he was found, the medical examiner could not determine the cause of death, according to family attorneys.

Thompson was arrested on June 12, 2022, for simple battery against police officials, according to jail records.

In the statement, posted to its Facebook page, the sheriff's office said the executive team that's been in place "has more than 65 years of jail administration and law enforcement experience."

"When leveraged at its very best, that experience can be invaluable. However, it can also lend itself to complacency, stagnation and settling for the status quo," it said.

"It's clear to me that it's time, past time, to clean house," Labat said in the statement.

According to Harper, Thompson suffered from mental health issues and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was placed in a psychiatric ward in jail three months before his death.

Family attorneys, community members and family held a press conference Thursday to demand the Department of Justice investigate the jail.

Thompson's family also has called for the jail to be closed.

"He wasn’t the only one who was affected by those insects and bedbugs in that entire wing, but he was the only one that we know of who died," Harper said during the press conference.

Thompson's younger sister Shenita Thompson spoke at the press conference, sharing she'd been calling authorities for months to get answers regarding the death of her brother, but was unable to get answers until Harper stepped in to help.

“I want to get down to the truth of what happened to my brother," Shenita said.

Thompson's aunt spoke as well, detailing the bites she found over her nephew's body at the funeral home.

The Fulton County Sheriff's Office says it's exploring its options to change medical vendors and to partner with a provider that can "compassionately" deliver care, officials said.

Sheriff Labat joined the family at the Thursday press conference, offering his condolences and answering questions from the community.

“The family asked me to come out here and stand with them. We have prayed together. We understand and I've said this publicly. This is absolutely unconscionable. Point blank,” he said.

An investigation is being conducted by the Office of Professional Standards, as well as by the Atlanta Police Department, authorities said. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations will ultimately review a "full investigative package" once the probes are complete, the sheriff's office said.

PHOTO: FILE - A general view of Fulton County Jail building, July 10, 2020 in Atlanta.
A general view of Fulton County Jail building, July 10, 2020 in Atlanta.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images, FILE

According to Harper, Senator Jon Ossoff also called for the DOJ to begin an investigation and Labat shared at the press conference that he has been “in contact” with Ossoff's office.

"In terms of the timeline, it's important to know what I don't want to do is, I don't want to for the sake of expediency rush through. I want to get it right," Labat said. "The family deserve it. We need to make sure we get it right every step of the way.

Crump announced at the press conference that he will be conducting an independent autopsy done for Thompson with help from former NFL star and activist Colin Kapernick, who contacted the family assuring that he will pay for it "no matter what."

"We didn't want our brother to be shown to the public like this, but the public need to see," said Brad McCrae, younger brother of Thompson. "Everybody need to see. Everybody needs to wake up and somebody needs to be held accountable."