Gwinnett County

‘They dropped the ball:’ Family says 20-year-old who died in Gwinnett jail was unfairly accused

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — The death of a 20-year-old in the Gwinnett County Jail has only raised more questions for his family after they say he was first unfairly accused in a police shooting at a mental health facility.

Austin Collins died January 14 inside of his jail cell, according to the GBI. His cause of death has not been released and the death remains under GBI investigation.

But for nearly two years before then, Collins’ mother has been fighting to get her son out of jail after she says the place where he went for help ended up becoming the place where he was involved in a police shooting. His mother told Channel 2 Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Matt Johnson it will never make sense how she went to get him help and he ended up dead in a jail cell.

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“I went everywhere I could go for help,” Syreeta Collins said. “They dropped the ball on his life and, given these circumstances, I just don’t want to drop the ball in his death.”

It was March 2022 when Collins noticed her son Austin was suffering some medical complications from diabetes and possibly having paranoid thoughts. She took him to an emergency room but she says he was transferred to Summit Ridge Behavioral Health Hospital because no ER beds were available.

After three days at Summit Ridge, Lawrenceville police were called by staff because they told them Collins had tried to escape. Officers located him in an area called The Healing Garden and calmly tried to get him to come back to his room and see a medical professional. However, Collins told them he wanted to go home and didn’t want to be at the facility anymore, according to body camera video.

In the video, there’s a struggle between Collins and one of the officers for the officer’s gun. Next, a gunshot is heard as an officer is shot in the leg. Finally, Collins is shot by another officer who was attempting to control the situation in the darkness.

Once Collins recovered, he was taken to the Gwinnett County Jail to face multiple felony charges including aggravated assault on a peace officer.


Rachel Kaufman, the attorney for the family, said those charges were brought without significant evidence.

“There’s no evidence that he’s the one who pulled the trigger that hurt the officer,” she said.

Prosecutors had Collins indicted and he remained in jail awaiting trail without bond until his death in January. His mother says not knowing how he died is another source of frustration.

“He was mislabeled, misdiagnosed, misunderstood,” she described.

His mother believes the staff at the hospital could have done more to contain the situation before calling armed police officers.

“They don’t have anywhere to put their weapons when they get there,” she said.

Kaufman believes race may have played a role.

“He is a large black male,” she said. “Unfortunately I feel like that did factor in the way the nurses and the staff there didn’t want to do their job.”

The CEO of Summit Ridge told Channel 2 Action News that HIPAA laws prevent her from commenting on specific patients or circumstances.

Meanwhile, Collins’s mother is left grieving a man she remembers as a “teddy bear” and a “gentle giant.”

“You go to a hospital and God forbid you’re having a bad day,” she said. “Because somebody’s going to care too late.

As she prepares to bury her son, she’s raising funds online for his funeral.

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