Family wasn’t told Clayton County inmate spent weeks in hospital, dying

Sara Roth hadn’t spoken with her mother in several weeks. The two often spoke by phone, but that changed when Regina Salman was arrested in December, accused of trying to take beer from a neighbor’s home.

Roth chalked it up to her mother’s ongoing battle with alcoholism. “It’s better for her to be in jail because she’ll sober up there,” Roth remembers thinking.

The next time Roth saw her mother was when she decided to take her off a ventilator at Grady Memorial Hospital. Salman, 56, died about an hour later on April 24. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor at Grady and had other visible injuries and broken bones, and she spent the final weeks of her life on a ventilator.

But Salman’s family had not been told she was taken to the hospital. The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office never notified anyone that Salman was no longer in jail.

“She was on life support for three weeks before we even knew what was going on,” Roth told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Now, Roth wants answers about what happened in her mother’s final months. An attorney helped her request hundreds of pages of records from the Clayton jail and Southern Regional Medical Center, which periodically provided care to her mother. But Roth is still waiting for other medical documents from Grady.

Records that Roth obtained indicate Salman fell in her jail cell on March 8 and again two days later, suffering injuries severe enough to require hospital attention.

Salman’s live-in boyfriend of 15 years, Ronald Smith, said he couldn’t afford her $25,000 bond, but he visited her frequently at the jail and deposited money on her account. But one day in March, Smith was told he couldn’t see Salman, yet was given no explanation. He attempted to file a missing person’s report, but he was told he couldn’t because the two weren’t married. In early April, Smith was told Salman had bonded out.

“Where did she go?” Smith said he asked. “All of her clothes and everything she owns is here.”

Clayton Sheriff Victor Hill did not respond to requests for information on Salman’s case.

» RELATED: ACLU, Southern Center sue Clayton sheriff over COVID-19 transparency

» ALSO: Civil rights groups suing Sheriff Hill

In autumn, before her December arrest, Salman had been to Southern Regional three times after having seizures, Roth said. Doctors believed those were attributable to her drinking problem.

When a deputy brought Salman back to Southern Regional in March, Salman’s injuries were too severe to be treated there and she was transferred to Grady, Roth said. Salman had broken ribs, a collapsed lung and bruises to her face, her daughter said.

At Grady, Salman’s condition deteriorated quickly, Roth later learned.

“She was suffering from a huge brain tumor at the time and none of us knew,” Roth said.

One afternoon, a deputy sent by Grady social workers arrived at Smith’s Riverdale home to tell him Salman was in the hospital. Smith was shocked to learn how ill Salman was and that she had been diagnosed with a tumor.

“I had no knowledge of that. I had never heard of her complaining of a headache or anything like that,” Smith said.

Smith immediately contacted Roth, but by the time the two were able to get to Grady, Salman was unresponsive. Roth was horrified by the extent of her mother’s injuries. A doctor at Grady said he believed Salman may have been beaten, though she said she had fallen, Roth said. But her mother wasn’t able to fully communicate what had happened.

“We were robbed from being able to speak with her,” Roth said.

Smith and Roth were both at Grady with Salman when she died. Both regret not being able to spend more time with her before her death.

“Regina loved Sara with all of her heart and soul,” Smith said. “I miss her so bad. I’m just lost without her.”

One document Roth received from the Clayton jail says her mother was released because of the coronavirus — a step many metro jails took to help slow the spread of the virus among inmates. But Roth said the jail records fail to explain how her mother was so severely injured that she had to be hospitalized, leaving her with more questions.

“How is any of this OK?” Roth said.

The GBI conducted an autopsy, but Roth doesn’t have the results and has been unable to get a death certificate. Because of that, Roth said she cannot retrieve her mother’s personal items.

Salman was cremated, and Roth and Smith have her ashes. They are planning an informal memorial later this month.