Sheriff responds to video made by sister of dead inmate

Sheriff Eric Levett

CONYERS — In response to a social media video alleging wrongdoing by the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office in the death of inmate Shali Tilson, Sheriff Eric Levett released a statement on Facebook.

Tilson, 22, from Conyers, was arrested by Conyers Police on March 3 on two misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of a law enforcement officer.

The incident report stated that Tilson was allegedly attempting to kick the door down at a house on Lakeview Drive, and resisted being taking into custody. Transported to the Rockdale County Jail, Tilson allegedly became combative again and had to be restrained in a transport chair to be taken into the jail.

According to a news release from the Sheriff’s Office, Tilson was pronounced dead at 8:45 p.m. on March 12 while in custody at the Rockdale County Jail.

His cause of death remains unknown at this time, but the body was transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner for autopsy. Sheriff Levett also requested the GBI conduct an investigation into Tilson’s death.

Tilson’s sister, Sonia Jones Ward, posted a tearful video on Facebook on March 12 about her brother’s arrest and death, claiming that their mother wasn’t allowed to see or talk to him, that her brother should not have been in jail for misdemeanor charges, and that her brother “was murdered by the police.”

In response to that video and calls he has received, Levett issued the following statement on Facebook on March 27:

“Greetings everyone:

“First of all I want to thank everyone who reached out to me personally about the recent death of one of my inmates at the Rockdale Sheriff’s Office Detention Center. Thank you for your prayers, encouragement and offers you have bestowed upon me and my office. Thank you for your understanding, patience and responses to those who learned of this untimely death.

“Now to those who seem to not want to understand the process, no matter what is released or told to them by people who have the knowledge and common sense to understand how this process works. I’m making this post because I’ve received an enormous amount of messages and calls about videos from a young lady who is sending them out through Facebook in an effort to go viral without having factual information that I personally nor any of my staff is even privy to at this time. We have not even spoken to any relatives of the deceased since the death notification.

“I will say once again as I have stated in two earlier press releases that my prayers go out to the family of Mr. Tilson and I am deeply saddened by his passing. I called in the GBI to conduct the investigation along with RCSO Office of Professional Standards, who will conduct an internal investigation. As most of you know those investigations are a timely process and are thoroughly done and take ample time to complete. Some people rather not wait on the facts and would much rather use their own conclusions and judgments as to what happened to Mr.Tilson. Also most of you know I cannot and will not discuss this case since I need to know facts as well. RCSO has worked hard to build a professional reputation, and we will continue to stand by that reputation because we have nothing to hide. As soon as any information is released to us we will let the family know first and foremost and then the public.

“As far as the videos surfacing online please know and understand this, I reached out to sit down to talk to the family on the same day of notification and they declined to speak to me or anyone from my office; therefore, information released by videos from our review are false due to us not having ANY conversations or contact with the family or friends of Mr. Tilson. No information has been released to validate any of the information being sent through videos. As we continue to thoroughly investigate this case I ask everyone to continue to humble themselves and patiently wait with me for the results of the investigation. As always if anyone has any questions you may contact my office at 770-278-8104.

“Again THANK YOU and stay safe!”

Eric J. Levett, Sheriff

The Citizen also requested an update on March 27 from the GBI on the death investigation and received the following response from spokesperson Nelly Miles: “The results of the autopsy exam are pending further testing. There are no new updates at this time.”

Senior Reporter

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 26 years. Started at Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen in January 2016.