Cobb sheriff says department is cooperating with FBI investigation into jail death

Kevil Wingo, 36, left, died in September 2019 while in custody at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center. His family is now suing three deputies and six former Wellstar nurses.

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Kevil Wingo, 36, left, died in September 2019 while in custody at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center. His family is now suing three deputies and six former Wellstar nurses.

Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens has declined to open a second internal investigation into the 2019 death of inmate Kevil Wingo, but said his office is cooperating with an FBI investigation into the matter, according to an April 28 letter from Owens to the Wingo family’s attorney.

Wingo was pronounced dead Sept. 29, 2019, after he was found unresponsive in an isolation cell at the jail. The 36-year-old died from complications of a perforated gastric ulcer, according to an autopsy.

“...The Federal Bureau of Investigation has now opened an investigation into this matter,” Owens’ letter says. “My office has and will continue to cooperate fully with the FBI investigation. As a result ... my office feels there is no need for another internal investigation into Mr. Wingo’s death.”

The inmate’s family has alleged in a federal lawsuit that Wingo’s rights were violated under the U.S. Constitution’s eighth and 14th Amendments because nurses and deputies failed to provide him with medical care, and that the department violated its own policy by not properly monitoring Wingo after placing him in a padded isolation cell.

The FBI is the primary federal agency charged with investigating civil rights violations.

According to the agency’s website: “Individuals in custody have a right to medical treatment for serious medical needs. An official acting under color of law who recognizes the serious medical need, but knowingly and willfully denies or prevents access to medical care may have committed a federal color of law violation.”

In his letter to Wingo family attorney Timothy J. Gardner, Owens references previous civil and criminal investigations conducted by his department under former Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren, and that those inquiries have been forwarded to Cobb District Attorney Broady Flynn.

“Additionally, I will be sharing my office’s criminal investigation with the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office for their independent review, and the District Attorney can make an independent decision as to whether there is criminal liability resulting from the death of Kevil Wingo.”

The letter also mentions that Owens asked that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conduct a separate criminal investigation into Wingo’s death late last year, but the request was denied.

“I am committed to restoring trust in the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office and bringing transparency to the administration and conduct of my office,” Owens wrote. “Likewise, investigations performed by the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office must be conducted fairly, without bias, and without even the hint of impropriety.”

Gardner said that the FBI’s investigation into Wingo’s death could only result in federal charges against those responsible.

“Criminal negligence, manslaughter and murder are all state crimes,” Gardener said.

Gardner added that under ideal circumstances an independent state agency would investigate Wingo’s death, but that hadn’t happened. Gardner noted that Owens campaigned last year on reforming his department.

“There’s nothing that stops him from doing it himself to write a wrong and change the culture at the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office,” Gardner said.

Wingo is one of several inmates to have died at the Cobb jail since December, 2018.