Family attorney says man with mental illness was 'eaten alive' by bed bugs at Fulton County Jail

fulton county jail
The family of Lashawn Thompson said he died in the Futon County Jail under brutal conditions and are demanding it be shut down. (Jasmine Robinson/WABE)

The family of a 35-year-old Black man who died at the Fulton County Jail says they want the facility shut down and replaced.

Meanwhile, Fulton County officials have already started planning for a new $2 billion jail almost four times the size of the overcrowded facility on Rice Street.

Lashawn Thompson is a 35-year-old man who died at the Fulton County Jail in September 2022. His family says they want the facility to be shut down after he was found covered in bed bugs. (Courtesy of Attorney Michael Harper)

At a press conference across the street from the Fulton County Superior Court on Thursday, April 13, Lashawn Thompson’s family said he was suffering from mental illness when he died under brutal conditions.

The family’s attorney, Michael Harper, said Thompson was found dead in his cell in September 2022 after being “eaten alive by insects and bed bugs.”

“They put that man in that cell,” Harper said, “left him there to die, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Harper said Thompson had been arrested for a misdemeanor three months before he died and that he was placed in the psychiatric wing of the Fulton County Jail, where he was supposed to be checked on every two hours.

But, newly obtained records allegedly show detention officers and medical staff did little to help Thompson. Harper said he had been physically healthy when he entered the jail. The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office listed his death as undetermined.

“There is no way that this man was being monitored every two hours,” Harper said. “It seems like he wasn’t monitored for months. His body was riddled with insect bites and his whole body was filled with these sores. It’s just a despicable display.”

Thompson’s younger brother, Brad McRae, said he was on his way to work last year when he received a phone call that Thompson had been found unresponsive. He said their family was living in Alabama at the time and didn’t even know Thomspon had been arrested.

“Bringing awareness, letting people know, shutting the jail down, changing the system, that would be the greatest justice that anybody could get,” McRae said. “He was just an everyday person. He loved to cook. He loved to dance. He loved music.”

Shenita Binns is a community activist and mental health advocate. She said something needs to change.

“I got involved because it touched my heart to see someone die of such horrific, inhumane conditions,” Binns said. “Mental health issues are often punished in the State of Georgia repeatedly and continuously. Justice would be accepting accountability without having to put the family through as much as they’ve already been through such as having to come here from out of town. A person with a mental health issue and a misdemeanor should not even have been in a regular [county] jail.”

Lashawn Thompson’s family attorney, Michael Harper says, his cell was covered in feces and infested with bugs and other vermin when he died while in the psychiatric ward at the Fulton County Jail in Septmeber 2022. He had been arrested three months prior for a misdemeanor. (Courtesy of Attorney Michael Harper)

A lawsuit against the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office has not been filed, but Thompson’s family attorney said it’s coming.

In a statement to WABE, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office said it launched a full investigation into Thompson’s death. As part of that investigation, the sheriff’s office approved $500,000 to address the infestation of bed bugs, lice and other vermin at the jail. It also updated protocols for security rounds to include addressing sanitary conditions.

The ongoing investigation examining details regarding the medical care provided to Thompson will determine whether any criminal charges are warranted, the sheriff’s office stated.

“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,” it stated. “That is precisely why Sheriff [Patrick] Labat continues to call building a new Fulton County Jail and Criminal Justice Complex which will provide an elite level of care, mental health services, security and cleanliness.”