COBB COUNTY, Ga. - In the wake of another inmate death at the Cobb County jail, activists are calling on Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren to improve conditions at the facility and hire more staff.
Friday's press conference at the jail, organized by the Cobb County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was held about two weeks after the fourth jail death in 12 months.
Kevil Wingo, 36, died Sept. 29 after experiencing a "medical emergency" in his cell, Cobb Sheriff's Office spokesman Commander Robert Quigley previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was taken to WellStar Kennestone Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Wingo's death is the fourth to have occurred at the jail in the last year. Bradley Emory, 33, was found unresponsive in the shower with a sheet around his neck March 10, according to a report from the Cobb County Medical Examiner's Office. The county medical examiner ruled Emory's death a suicide.
Reginald Wilson, who suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, died of dehydration in December 2018 after nine days in the jail. Jessie Myles, 31, was found dead three days later after he was arrested Feb. 23 by Marietta police for drug possession.
Cobb County Sheriff's Office spokesman Glenn Daniel said the agency does not discuss security operations at the jail. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution requested the number of inmates housed at the jail, the number of vacancies in the Sheriff's Office and the number of deputies assigned to the facility. Those numbers were not made available by press time.
In June, the AJC reported the sheriff's office had 95 vacancies, 73 of which were for sworn officers. Sheriffs are constitutionally elected officers who are responsible for executing warrants, providing security at the courthouse and staffing the jail.
Dr. Ben Williams, president of the local SCLC chapter, said he's been told that the internal dynamics at the jail are "not stable." He also said there have been confrontations between guards and inmates that have led officials to impose lockdowns for extended periods of time.
In September, three inmates — Francisco Cruz, Dorian Acosta and Arshade Yates — allegedly assaulted two officers Sept. 19. Both deputies had to be transported to the hospital with injuries, according to arrest warrants.
Williams took aim at the sheriff.
"Those who've watched him should not be surprised at all that his hero has been and continues to be the infamous Joe Arpaio," he said, referring to the former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff who was known for controversial conditions at his jail.
Steve Gaynor, the president of the local branch of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he's been told that staffing levels are so low that inmates are being placed on lockdown — meaning they are confined to the their cells — for an "extended period of time." He said the current ratio is about 1 deputy to between 30 and 60 inmates, and many of those deputies are working six or seven 12-hour days.
The result of this, Gaynor said, is many deputies at the jail are afraid for their safety. He said staffing shortages could result in someone experiencing a severe medical emergency or death.
"It's very tough to work out there when you're outnumbered by such numbers," he said.
Gaynor is among dozens of local law enforcement supporters and officials who have been pressing the Cobb County Commission and Sheriff Warren to address staffing shortages within the sheriff's office and police department. While the Cobb police department has embarked on a marketing campaign to recruit new officers, Gaynor said Warren has not done much on that front.
"He really needs to step up and begin recruiting to help with retention," he said.
Timothy Gardner, an attorney who is representing the sister of Kevil Wingo, said these last several days have been "tough" for her because no one from the sheriff's office has contacted her about the circumstances surrounding her brother's death.
Gardner said Wingo entered the jail as a "healthy, 36-year-old man" and died five days later. He said they are working to learn the cause and manner of Wingo's death. Gardner said it isn't normal for a 36-year-old man to be booked into the Cobb jail only to be "sentenced" to death in less than a week.
"That's what happened to him," he said. "We're trying to learn more about it and hopefully we will in the future."
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