Pressure mounts for Cobb district attorney to investigate inmate death

08/20/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Family and friends of Kevil Wingo hold up signs during a press conference outside of the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Thursday, August 20, 2020. Kevil Wingo died while in custody at the detention center. His family is saying that more could have been done to prevent his death. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
08/20/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Family and friends of Kevil Wingo hold up signs during a press conference outside of the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Thursday, August 20, 2020. Kevil Wingo died while in custody at the detention center. His family is saying that more could have been done to prevent his death. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Man died in isolation after pleas for help were ignored

Residents, elected officials and local activists want District Attorney Joyette Holmes to investigate the death of a detainee at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center.

Several dozen people held a press conference Thursday outside the jail in Marietta asking Holmes to re-open the criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Kevil Wingo, a man who died at the jail run by Sheriff Neil Warren.

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

The Cobb County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since the sheriff’s internal investigation report became public earlier this week.

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Timothy Gardner, attorney for Wingo’s family, said the detainee was “suffering some severe medical issues” while in the detention center’s infirmary. While in the infirmary, Gardner said Wingo spent nine hours “begging for his life,” telling nurses he was having issues with his ulcer and that he could not breathe.

08/20/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Attorney Timothy Gardner speaks during a press conference for Kevil Wingo outside of the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Thursday, August 20, 2020. Kevil Wingo died while in custody at the detention center. His family is saying that more could have been done to prevent his death. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
08/20/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Attorney Timothy Gardner speaks during a press conference for Kevil Wingo outside of the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Thursday, August 20, 2020. Kevil Wingo died while in custody at the detention center. His family is saying that more could have been done to prevent his death. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

According to an audio recording of a internal phone call at the Detention Center obtained by Gardner and shared with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a nurse asks a deputy if Wingo could be moved from the infirmary to another cell. According to the audio recording, the nurse refers to Wingo as an “idiot playing games” saying he was faking his distress because he wanted to go to the hospital.

After that nine-hour period, Gardner said the nurse at the infirmary had “enough of his complaints” and had Wingo placed in a padded isolation cell. According to surveillance footage Gardner’s office obtained from the Cobb Sheriff’s Office as part of its investigation, Wingo was placed in a wheelchair by two deputies, taken to the cell and placed face down onto the floor beside a toilet grate. His clothes were removed and the deputies placed what’s called a suicide smock on his back before leaving him alone in the cell, the video shows.

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On the video, Wingo is seen lying face down and moving his limbs around. He crawls to the other side of the cell and sits partially upright before he goes completely still. Wingo died 10 minutes after he was placed in the padded cell.

Information unearthed as part of the attorney’s own 10-month investigation showed Wingo was not faking, but was fighting for his life and “everyone ignored his cries of pain,” Gardner said.

08/20/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Kieara Wingo (left), daughter of Kevil Wingo, and Tiffany Wingo (right), sister of Kevil Wingo, ask that the people involved in KevilÕs death be charged during a press conference outside of the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Thursday, August 20, 2020. Kevil Wingo died while in custody at the detention center. His family is saying that more could have been done to prevent his death. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
08/20/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Kieara Wingo (left), daughter of Kevil Wingo, and Tiffany Wingo (right), sister of Kevil Wingo, ask that the people involved in KevilÕs death be charged during a press conference outside of the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Thursday, August 20, 2020. Kevil Wingo died while in custody at the detention center. His family is saying that more could have been done to prevent his death. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

“That has to stop,” said Gardner, who on Monday sent Cobb DA Holmes all the information he’s received pertaining to the case. “It is time for this Cobb County District Attorney to take our pleas seriously and to listen to Kevil Wingo and his family for the first time.”

In her first statement on Wingo’s case, issued Thursday, Holmes said “The sadness and frustration that his family, and those who support his family, feel should not be minimized.”

Holmes also addressed calls by some who have asked for her to impanel a special grand jury to review the case. According to Georgia law, a district attorney can petition the Superior Court to impanel a special grand jury. It would be up to the judges of the Superior Court to vote to move forward with that request, Holmes said.

Gardner’s calls for an investigation were backed by Kevil Wingo’s sister, Tiffany, who said she wants “justice for my brother after they dumped him like an animal.”

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Wellstar Health System, which until earlier this year was the health care provider at the Cobb County jail, said it began its own investigation into Wingo’s death last month. The company said its team members who were working at the detention center on the night of Wingo’s death are no longer employed by Wellstar, but did not specify if they were fired as a result of the incident. The company also said more should have been done by its medical team to help Wingo.

“What we have seen and learned of Mr. Wingo’s experience at the Detention Center is heart-breaking and unacceptable,” WellStar HealthSystem said in a statement. “We deeply regret what happened to Mr. Wingo and have reached out to representatives of Mr. Wingo’s family.”

08/20/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Kevil Wingo Jr. holds a sign featuring a photo of his father during a press conference to bring attention to his fatherÕs death outside of the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Thursday, August 20, 2020. Kevil Wingo died while in custody at the detention center. His family is saying that more could have been done to prevent his death. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
08/20/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - Kevil Wingo Jr. holds a sign featuring a photo of his father during a press conference to bring attention to his fatherÕs death outside of the Cobb County Adult Detention Center in Marietta, Thursday, August 20, 2020. Kevil Wingo died while in custody at the detention center. His family is saying that more could have been done to prevent his death. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

State Rep. David Wilkerson, who attended the press conference, said he’s had discussions about in-custody deaths with his colleagues at the Georgia Capitol. These deaths, he said, should not be investigated internally because an agency won’t get the answers they need from the people “you work with everyday.”

He also told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he is looking at introducing legislation when the new session resumes in January that would require an outside agency such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate in-custody deaths at local jails.

Wingo is one of nine detainees who have died in-custody at the Cobb Detention Center since December 2018. Seven of those inmates have been men: Reginald Wilson, Jessie Myles, Bradley Emory, William Kocour, Steven Davis, Kevil Wingo and Christopher Hart.

The two remaining detainees are women who died this year. Stephanie Nicole White was found unresponsive in her cell and pronounced dead June 19. An autopsy concluded White died from coronary artery disease. Another woman was found dead Aug. 6 in her cell. The Cobb Medical Examiner’s Office is investigating that case, and her identity has not been released at this time.

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