The family of an Atlanta inmate who died days after filing a civil rights complaint against the same jail that Donald Trump briefly found himself in last month say the 32-year-old suffered bite marks and other substantial injuries before his death.
The revelation came on the same day authorities confirmed a tenth death this year alone at the Fulton County Jail, which is already the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.
It comes three weeks after Samuel Lawrence, 34, was found unresponsive in his cell during dinner rounds. Lawrence, who was later pronounced dead at a local hospital, had been in custody for about eight months and held on a $30,000 bond for second-degree arson.
“No man wants to bury his son,” Lawrence’s father, Frank Richardson, said during a Wednesday press conference outside the jail. “You don’t want to bury your children, no one wants to bury their children.”
The Atlanta Police Department said last week that a death investigation and autopsy were ongoing. In the press conference with Lawrence’s family, Muhammad revealed that a private autopsy showed that Lawrence suffered from some alarming injuries after being “routinely attacked” while in jail.
“The preliminary autopsy findings, as a final report has not been issued, indicating that there was evidence of physical assault that he had suffered. There were injuries to his chest, and there were bite marks on his body that the medical examiner estimated had been there since about one week before the time of his death,” Muhammad said. “It is our belief that there was obviously foul play…given the evidence of physical assault, and given the reports that had been made.”
“We are going to pursue justice for Samuel Lawrence,” he added. “The situation in the jail is deplorable.”
Days before his death, Lawrence filed a 16-page handwritten federal civil rights lawsuit against the jail, detailing multiple instances in which deputies used excessive force. In the complaint, Lawrence said he was kicked while handcuffed, pepper-sprayed, and tased in the chest while strapped to a medical bed.
Each time, Lawrence alleged, he was not given any medical attention and instead kept in isolation with no water, bed, or working toilet. The complaint also alleged that the deputies failed to report the incidents.
“I don’t know how much more I can take,” Lawrence wrote in his Aug. 22 complaint. “I’m starving; I’m thirsty.”
Lawrence’s family has called for change at the jail, which holds about 2,523 people and is where Trump and 18 others surrendered last month for booking on charges related to an alleged scheme to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.
“We are here to make a difference for Sam’s life. For justice and for peace,” Lawrence’s uncle, Eugene Hall Jr., said. Lawrence’s cousin, Sheba Terrell, added that her family is “going to make sure justice is served for him.”
The family said their efforts were not just for Lawrence but for the other inmates suffering in the jail. On Wednesday, the sheriff’s office confirmed that 24-year-old Shawndrew Delmore was found unresponsive in his cell during a routine check on Aug. 31. Delmore, who was arrested on a second-degree burglary charge and held on a $2,500 bond, died at a local hospital on Sunday.
Muhammad said Wednesday that inmates “are screaming out for help, there are written reports being made constantly, and we find that even though the DOJ is conducting an investigation, there is an immediate need for the situation to be remedied.”
Last month, 23-year-old inmate Dayvion Blake was killed and five others were injured in a mass stabbing. In July, 40-year-old Montay Stinson was found unresponsive in his cell, where he was being held on a $30,000 bond for second-degree burglary. He had “no obvious signs of injury,” the sheriff’s office said. Days later, on Aug. 10, authorities said that 34-year-old Christopher Smith was found unresponsive in his cell and died the next morning.
A week later, 66-year-old Alexander Hawkins was found dead in his cell. His death came just two weeks after he was arrested on a shoplifting charge and held on a $5,000 bond. Authorities say that final autopsy reports have not been released for all the in-custody deaths.
“The recent outbreak of violence at the Fulton County Jail is of grave concern but unfortunately is not surprising considering the long-standing, dangerous overcrowding and the crumbling walls of the facility that are literally being crafted into makeshift weapons that inmates use to attack each other and staff,” Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said in a statement. “We have had an unfortunate series of deaths this year that range from natural causes, to pre-existing health conditions, to homicide.”
The Department of Justice announced a July investigation into the jail after the death of Lashawn Thompson, who was found “covered in lice and filth” in his cell. At the time of his death, Thompson was being held on a misdemeanor assault charge and was placed in the psychiatric wing of the jail due to his mental health issues. (Thompson’s family was awarded a $4 million settlement from the county earlier this month.)
“Following Mr. Thompson’s death, evidence emerged that the mental health unit where he died was infested with insects and that the majority of people living in that unit were malnourished and not receiving basic care,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a July news conference, adding that the jail also had large holes in the walls and flooding.