DOJ launches probe into Georgia's Fulton County jails amid allegations of inmate abuse, neglect

This comes after LaShawn Thompson's death in a bed bug-infested cell.

July 13, 2023, 3:36 PM

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it has launched a civil investigation into the Fulton County, Georgia, jail system following a series of reports of inmate abuse and neglect, including the Sept. 13, 2022, death of LaShawn Thompson, who died in a bed bug-infested jail cell.

Kristen Clarke, the DOJ's Civil Rights Division head, said investigators will examine living conditions in the jail, inmates' access to medical and mental health care services and allegations of use of excessive force by staff.

Fulton County officials and the Fulton County Sheriff's Office responded to the probe in a joint statement.

"Fulton County and the Sheriff’s Office have been made aware of a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice to examine conditions at the Fulton County Jail and will be cooperating fully with the investigation," the statement said.

The DOJ said the investigation will be conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Georgia.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the investigation will determine whether "systemic violations of federal laws exist, and if so, how to correct them."

"People in prisons and jails are entitled to basic protections of their civil rights," Garland said.

LaShawn Thompson is pictured in an undated photo.
Ben Crump Law

Attorneys Ben Crump and Michael Harper, who represent the Thompson family, claimed Thompson was "eaten alive by bed bugs." They had previously called on the DOJ to launch a probe into the conditions of Fulton County jails.

Crump and Harper welcomed the investigation, saying the DOJ had heard the family’s "cries for justice."

"While nothing can undo the injustice that Lashawn Thompson faced, it is a tragedy that can hopefully amount to much needed change inside of the Fulton County Jail," they said in a statement. "It is our prayer that the DOJ confirms the clear pattern of negligence and abuse that happens in Fulton County and swiftly ends it so that no other family experiences this devastation."

Clarke told reporters the probe will examine whether the jail discriminates against incarcerated people with psychiatric disabilities and cited several cases that led the DOJ to launch the investigation, including the death of Thompson.

An independent autopsy report commissioned by Thompson’s family and obtained by ABC News lists "dehydration, malnutrition, severe body insect infestation" as well as "untreated decompensated schizophrenia" as the conditions that led to Thompson's death.

The Fulton County autopsy was completed on Sept. 14, 2022. Photos of Thompson covered with bed bugs and images of his filthy cell went viral on social media.

"It's enough that the bed bugs and lice sat there and ate my brother to death, but it's the neglect that hurts me the most," said Thompson's brother, Brad McCray, during a press conference on May 22.

Thompson was arrested on June 12, 2022, for simple battery against police officials, according to jail records. The Atlanta Police Department and the Office of Professional Standards launched an investigation into Thompson's death.

Fulton County Sheriff Patrick "Pat" Labat told ABC News in a statement on May 22 that "it was painfully clear there were a number of failures that led to Mr. Thompson's tragic death."

Labat noted there have been "sweeping changes" at the jail following Thompson's death.

ABC News' Janice McDonald contributed to this report.