Atlanta: Lashawn Thompson was slumped over in a cell at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta when a detention officer came to check on him in September. The cell was so dirty that a worker who entered it wore a safety suit designed to protect from hazardous materials, according to jail records.
Officers were unable to resuscitate Thompson in the cell, where he'd been held for around three months. An autopsy could not determine his cause of death, but the report described an "extremely severe" infestation of small insects across Thompson's body. His face, upper and lower extremities were pockmarked with cuts and lesions from repeated skin-picking, the report said.
But to Thompson's family, the cause of his death is clear.
Thompson was "eaten alive" by insects and bed bugs, Michael Harper, an attorney for Thompson's family, said in a news release Wednesday. The release, accompanied by jail records and graphic photos of Thompson and his cell, called for a criminal investigation into the 35-year-old man's death and for the Fulton County Jail to be shuttered and replaced.
If you look at those pictures, how deplorable that jail cell was, how did they get to that point in the first place? It's not fit for an animal.
"They put that man in that cell, left him there to die," Harper said in a Thursday news conference. "And that's exactly what happened."
The family is working with doctors to investigate Thompson's death, Harper added.
Brad McCrae, Thompson's brother, told The Washington Post his family is shaken by the conditions detailed in the report and the photos that show the extent of the infestation across Thompson's body. The family decided to release the photos to illustrate the abuse he suffered, Harper's release said.
"It's heartbreaking," McCrae said. "The pictures are really awful, they're hard to look at."
The Fulton County Sheriff's Office, which operates the jail, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night. In a statement to WSB-TV, a spokesperson said the office was investigating Thompson's death and had approved funds to address infestations and diseases at the jail. The statement also echoed Harper's calls to replace the jail.
"It's no secret that the dilapidated and rapidly eroding conditions of the current facility make it incredibly difficult to meet the goal of providing a clean, well-maintained and healthy environment for all inmates and staff," the statement said.
Harper told The Post the family appreciated that officials are working to improve some conditions but called for further action.
"If you look at those pictures, how deplorable that jail cell was, how did they get to that point in the first place?" he said. "It's not fit for an animal."
Thompson was a "playful" man who grew up wanting to be a doctor, McCrae said. He loved dancing and baking strawberry cakes and was fond of Atlanta, where he worked at grocery stores.
Thompson was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor simple battery in June, court records show. He was held at the Fulton County Jail and awaiting transfer to an Alabama jail for a prior charge, Harper said.
Officers moved Thompson to the psychiatric wing of the jail after determining he had mental health issues, according to Harper.
Thompson's family, who lives in Alabama, did not know he had been detained until they received a call informing them of his death, they said at the news conference. Harper said the family had only recently obtained the jail records and decided to release them.
McCrae said the graphic photos of his brother brought to mind images from a landmark moment in America's history of racial injustice.
"The first thing that came to my mind was seeing the photos of Emmett Till," he said, referencing the 14-year-old Black boy tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 who, at his family's insistence, was photographed at an open casket funeral to show the brutality of his death.
Thompson was healthy and had no preexisting physical health conditions before being jailed, Harper said. He alleged that jail staff noticed Thompson's condition deteriorate over the months he was detained but did not help him, citing jail records and photos of the squalid condition of Thompson's cell.
That cell was covered in filth and lice when officers found him unresponsive in September, according to the jail's incident report. Another report from the Fulton County medical examiner called the insects bed bugs. The officer who first found him "freaked out" and did not immediately administer CPR, a Fulton County Jail supervisor said in the jail's incident report.
Thompson's family has not yet taken legal action but intends to once they hear back from doctors evaluating Thompson's death, Harper said. But he said in Thursday's conference that he hoped for change outside the courtroom.
"It is a situation there that needs to be resolved systemically," Harper said.