The Cobb County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request from the AJC for comment on the lawsuit.
Attorney Derek Bauer, who has served as 11Alive’s outside counsel for 20 years, said the sheriff’s office has “manufactured an investigation” to claim it’s exempt from complying with the Open Records Act. The law governs which government records are to be open for public inspection.
“We were not surprised that they declined to do so," Bauer said of the sheriff’s office declining to release the records. "We were disappointed.”
According to the lawsuit, the investigation the sheriff’s office cited in its refusal is being conducted by Nathan Wade. Wade, a partner at Marietta law firm Wade, Bradley & Campbell, told the AJC that he was asked by Warren during the summer to look into complaints about the use of force, racial biases and discrimination and allegations of neglect dating back five years.
Wade represented the sheriff in March during a hearing before the Cobb County Board of Elections. The lawsuit by 11 Alive contends Wade and his firm have no experience or training in investigating jail deaths.
Wade, who previously said he’s not charging the sheriff’s office for his investigation, told the AJC that one firm member is a former Cobb County deputy and another has provided legal assistance to indigent defendants at the jail.
“To anyone who can dare say that this firm is not qualified to do this job, I would say they probably need to be a little more thorough in their research before making such statements," he said.
Bauer on Monday petitioned Cobb County Superior Court Judge Gregory Poole for an expedited oral hearing on his lawsuit. The attorney said Warren and his team should comply with the Open Records Act so the public can see if Cobb inmates “are being housed safely and treated appropriately.”
“We can’t really know what deficiencies exist ... and the nature of those deficiencies in the administration of the jail until the records about what happened to these inmates are released to the public for evaluation," Bauer said.
The nine detainees who have died since December 2018 are Wilson, Emory, McClendon, Jessie Myles, William Kocour, Steven Davis, Kevil Wingo, Christopher Hart and an unidentified woman whose cause of death has not been released.
Five of the men — Wilson, Myles, Kocour, Emory and Wingo — died of natural causes, autopsies concluded. Davis’s death was classified as undetermined. Hart died in November 2019 from a ruptured spleen, which occurred when he fell in his cell, according to a report released by the Cobb County Medical Examiner’s Office. His death was classified as accidental. McClendon, also known as Stephanie White, died from coronary artery disease.