Rockdale District Attorney Alisha Johnson: No evidence jailers criminally caused Shali Tilson’s death

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Today, Rockdale County District Attorney Alisha A. Johnson officially announced the conclusion of the four-month Special Grand Jury investigation into the death of 22-year-old Shali Tilson, saying there is no evidence that Rockdale County Jail administrators criminally caused his death.

Tilson died of dehydration on March 12, 2018 after being arrested on March 3, 2018 for disorderly conduct that he was experiencing due to mental illness.   Attorney Mawuli Davis, who is representing Tilson’s family, said Tilson died an agonizing death in his cell after pressing a call button for help that didn’t work.  Davis and the family released a video last week showing Tilson’s final moments before his death.

The Grand Jury said that Tilson “either failed or was unable to consume adequate water or hydration.” However, based on evidence presented to the Grand Jury, a series of circumstances, acts, omissions and failures came together to create the atmosphere for Tilson’s death.” Because Tilson was in one of the jail’s two padded cells, he did not have access to a fountain as did other detainees.

“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…”

Johnson released the findings of the Grand Jury’s 84-page report this afternoon, along with her two-page statement.

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.

Johnson said, however, that the Grand Jury found no evidence that any person criminally caused Tilson’s death, 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.”

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.

Story developing. More to come on this story.    


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