Shali Tilson, a 22-year-old mentally ill man who died of dehydration on March 12, 2018 while in custody of the Rockdale Jail, was placed in a cell with no personal access to water, a special Grand Jury has found.
According to the Grand Jury’s four-month investigation into Tilson’s death, which was released today, every bed at the Rockdale County Jail provided detainees with the ability to obtain water, except the padded cell where Tilson, a “paranoid schizophrenic,” was locked up. Tilson was arrested on March 3, 2018 for disorderly conduct that he was experiencing due to mental illness.
“Having cut off Tilson’s ability to obtain his own water, the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office “had no set policy, or even consistent practice, as to how a detainee like Tilson would get water….,” the Grand Jury said in its 84-page report.
Tilson, the Grand Jury said, died in the jail because he “either failed or was unable to consume adequate water or hydration.”
Rockdale County District Attorney Alisha A. Johnson, who released the report along with a two-page statement, said there is no evidence that jail administrators criminally caused Tilson’s death.
Attorney Mawuli Davis, who is representing Tilson’s family, said he is reviewing the Grand Jury’s Presentment and he plans to call a press conference on Thursday. He said last week that Tilson died an agonizing death in his cell after pressing a call button for help that didn’t work. Davis and the family recently released a video showing Tilson’s final moments before his death.
The Grand Jury said: “In practice, the provision of water to detainees in the padded cells was either upon request of the detainee or at the haphazard discretion of the individual jailers assigned the specific task of providing water.”
Additionally, because the risk was not contemplated, jailers never received training regarding the dangers of dehydration and the symptoms associated with the condition…”
Rockdale Sheriff Eric Levett is in the process of fully reviewing the report, said spokesman Deputy Lee Thomas.
“The Sheriff’s Office has received the Special Investigative Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations regarding the death of Shali Tilson. The Sheriff’s Office has already begun implementation of substantial measures designed to prevent the recurrence of a similar incident.
The Sheriff’s Office thanks the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Rockdale County’s District Attorney, and the Grand Jury for their investigation, hard work, review, findings, and recommendations,” Thomas said in a statement.
Johnson said in her statement:
“The Grand Jury found that medical, mental health and jail staff, through complacency, reluctance, assumptions and lack of procedures, training, leadership and adherence to policy failed to recognize and adequately address the mental state and physical decline of Shali Tilson. In addition, the Grand Jury found that under the totality of circumstances, the administration failed to live up to its responsibility of ensuring the safety and well-being of Shali Tilson while detained and confined n its jail. This played a significant role in failing to prevent the death of Shalit Tilson. This played a significant role in failing to prevent the death of Shali Tilson.
“The Grand Jury did not find evidence that any person, criminally or intentionally, caused the death of Shali Tilson. Nor did it find evidence that any person or persons intentionally withheld water from Shali Tilson or consciously ignored signs that he was suffering from physical distress and/or dehydration.
Based on the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations, the District Attorney’s office will ensure that the forepersons of the July Grand Juries in 2020 and 2021 will be provided a copy of the Presentment to inquire into the progress and implementation of this Grand Jury’s recommendations.
The District Attorney’s Office extends its sincere appreciation to the members of the Grand Jury for their attention, dedication and objective search for truth in this case. In addition, the District Attorney’s Office joins with the Grand Jury in extending our sincerest regrets to the family of Shali Tilson and hope that the family can take some small comfort in the fact that we have endeavored, as they requested, to see their brother and son as a person. It is the hope of both the District Attorney’s Office and the Grand Jury that another family will not have to endure the loss and pain they have suffered.”
The Grand Jury recommended in its report that several systems in the jail are repaired, and that random and independent audits be conducted. The Grand Jury also recommended that the Sheriff’s Office create a written policy regarding screening detainees exhibiting erratic behavior as well as implementing better training for medical staff and jailers including visual checks for detainees who are held on suicide watch, among other things.
The Grand Jury recommended the District Attorney review the action of jailer Dan Lang on March 12, 2018 in the “catching up the log” for possible criminal prosecution for giving, making or providing a false statement.
Sheriff’s spokesman Thomas said Lang no longer works for the Sheriff’s Office.
Johnson said the Special Investigative Grand Jury was comprised of 23 Rockdale citizens. Over the course of four months, the grand jury toured the Rockdale County Jail, reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, watched hours of available video recordings of Shali Tilson’s incarceration; questioned over 60 witnesses, including medical experts, former and current detention deputies, former and current inmates and medical and mental health staff.