DOJ investigation into jail deaths will be different, says D.A.

CONYERS - A request for the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to open an investigation into the deaths of two inmates who died in the Rockdale County Jail will be different than the investigation underway by the Rockdale County District Attorney’s office, according to D. A. Alisha Johnson.

The families of Shali Tilson and Jamie Henry, who died in the jail in March and May of last year, along with their attorneys and human and civil rights organizations, announced they would be requesting the DOJ open an investigation into their deaths at the jail.

“I know it is ultimately the desire of the families for a DOJ investigation to take place, and quite frankly, we have no problem with that,” said Johnson. “Our responsibility is distinct and separate from what the DOJ traditionally would investigate.”

The D.A’s office is conducting an investigation to determine if criminal charges should be filed, while a DOJ investigation could be broader, looking into violations of the inmates’ constitutional rights and federal laws.

Tilson, 22, of Conyers, was found dead in his cell on March 12 after he had been arrested nine days earlier by Conyers Police on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of a law enforcement officer. An autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) found the cause of death to be pulmonary thrombi (blood clots) due to dehydration. A subdural hemorrhage was also identified at autopsy, the cause of which was not able to be determined.

An internal affairs report dealing with Tilson’s death reportedly showed him to be under a suicide watch, but that there was a failure to make required regular checks on him, an inoperable call button in his cell, and the falsification of records by a jail supervisor.

Henry, 40, of Douglasville, was on hold at the Rockdale County Jail at the request of another law enforcement agency. She died May 27 after she was found unresponsive in her cell. Atlanta attorney Mawuli Davis, representing the families, said witnesses in the jail have allegedly stated that she called for help and was in need of medical treatment, but was ignored.

In June, the D. A.’s office began their own investigation into the two deaths after receiving evidence from the GBI. Johnson said Thursday their investigation is continuing.

“We have reviewed the circumstances surrounding both the death of Shali Tilson and Jamie Henry,” she said. “As it pertains to Shali Tilson, we have had a chance to meet with over 30 witnesses, including law enforcement officers, medical personnel, and current and former jail inmates. We met with the medical examiner numerous times, we’ve obtained documents, and also reviewed all of the jail video that was available to us.

“Ultimately, the job of the D.A.’s office is to conduct criminal investigations and to determine if criminal activity has taken place as opposed to negligence,” said Johnson. “At this time we have not reached a formal conclusion regarding those deaths.”

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Born and raised in Decatur, Ga. Graduated from Shorter College in Rome, Ga. in 1979 with B.A. in Communications. Worked in community newspapers for 25 years. Started at Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen in January 2016.