Fulton County commissioners take back more than $2 million in emergency funding for the jail

General Counsel Amelia Joiner speaks on behalf of Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat at the board of commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, after he’s asked about the contract between the sheriff’s office and Alpharetta-based company Talitrix. The company was paid using emergency funding the county allocated to try to improve conditions at the beleaguered Fulton County Jail. (Screenshot/FGTV)

Fulton County commissioners voted to take back $2.1 million they previously allotted to the sheriff for new technology to improve conditions at the beleaguered county jail.

In April, commissioners gave Sheriff Pat Labat more than $5 million in emergency funding following the high-profile death of a 35-year-old man, Lashawn Thompson, whose body was found covered in bed bugs in the psychiatric wing of the county jail.

Labat said some of the funds would go toward implementing the Talitrix system at the main jail on Rice Street. The system uses wristbands to allow jail staff to track inmates in the medical and psychiatric observation units.

Talitrix CEO Justin Hawkins said at a “Tech Demo Day” in May that the wristbands measured everything from an inmate’s heart rate to their blood pressure and would help ensure they received out-of-cell time. The company is based in Alpharetta.

“Obviously, with the tragic death of Mr. Thompson, you would see what occurred, how many times he was visited, you would see when the heart rate dropped,” Hawkins said. “You would see all the things in instant replay. This has never been done before.”

But six months later, very few wristbands have been rolled out.

Out of the 1,000 that were promised by July, only 15 wristbands are in use at the main jail. They only came online in September.

At the board of commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 18, Vice Chair Bob Ellis grilled the sheriff about the deal.

“I’ve asked specific questions that I’m looking to have addressed and those are the amount of the payments, when they were made, and the source of the fund in which they came,” Ellis said. “These are fairly simple, straightforward questions.”

Ellis alleged Talitrix did not go through a bidding process before reaching a deal with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and said that he had only recently learned about similar contracts the sheriff’s office had with the company.

Labat called it an “ambush” and directed his chief of staff and general counsel, Amelia Joiner, to speak on his behalf.

Joiner said payments to Talitrix started in December 2021. It includes $35,000 for the initial design of the system and $390,000 for contracts to install the infrastructure at the county’s other jails in Alpharetta and Union City.

“The max value of the contracts was $1.6 million, but only $435,000 were paid,” Joiner said. “The money was paid from the [jail’s] inmate welfare fund, as it was for the benefit and wellness of the inmates.”

Another payment of $733,000 was made to Talitrix in May for work at the main jail. Joiner said that was paid for from the county’s general fund and that the sheriff’s office has another deal with the company for electronic monitoring, “which is a completely separate issue.”

Ellis asked for all spending from the inmate welfare fund, but Joiner said that’s “under review and audit.”

“This is yet another straightforward request for which we are getting a non-responsive answer,” Ellis said.

Joiner said the information would be turned over in two weeks.

Additionally, Ellis asked why the previous agreements with Talitrix weren’t disclosed in April or before the sheriff sought extra funding. Joiner said it was the commissioners’ fault for not asking about it.

Since raising his concerns, Ellis said he’s received threatening texts from either the CEO of Talitrix or someone posing as him. But while he raised even more questions on Wednesday, it was Chair Robb Pitts who called to take back the funding.

“This is probably one of the worst contracts in my many years of public service that I’ve had anything to do with,” Pitts said.

It is unclear what will happen to the system’s infrastructure that’s in place after commissioners voted 4-to-1 in favor of rescinding the allocation.

At least 10 people have died while in custody so far this year.