Shali Tilson was found dead in a Rockdale county jail cell Monday. It's unclear what caused his death.
Photo: Rockdale County Sheriff's Office
Photo: Rockdale County Sheriff's Office

Inmate found dead in jail had to be restrained to chair during arrest, police say

Nine days before a Rockdale County inmate was found dead in his cell, Conyers police officers were forced to wrestle him to the ground and restrain him to a chair, according to an incident report.

Shali Tilson, 22, asked one of the officers: “Why didn’t you shoot me?” 

RELATED: Inmate dies in Rockdale County jail

He was found dead in his cell Monday.

The incident dates to March 3, when two officers were called to a home in the 1200 block of Lakeview Drive about a man later identified as Tilson trying to kick down the home’s door.

When police arrived, they said they found the Conyers man yelling profanities.

He was wearing a camouflage jacket, black pants and red shoes. 

Although the report does not otherwise mention a woman with him, Tilson “also advised the female he was walking with had cocaine in her possession,” Conyers police Officer Marsh Thompson said in the report. 

“He rambled on and on and was pacing back and forth as he yelled,” Thompson said in the report.

Cpl. Shyra Hardwick was then called to the scene.

“After attempting to calm him down for several minutes, it was apparent Tilson was not going to comply,” Thompson said.

RELATED: DeKalb inmate’s death being investigated; family wants GBI probe

According to the report, Tilson did not follow Thompson’s command to put his hands behind his back, so Thompson along with Z. Eaton, another officer on the scene, took control of Tilson’s hands and struggled to handcuff him.

“The three of us fell to the ground in the struggle and we were eventually able to secure Tilson in double locked handcuffs behind his back,” Eaton said in the report.

The handcuffs were checked for fit and Tilson was cleared of any weapons or contraband, Thompson said.

Still, as officers tried to place him in the backseat of Thompson’s patrol car, he slipped out of the handcuffs, police said. Officers again struggled to get the cuffs back on and eventually got the man in the patrol car, police said.

While en route to the Rockdale County jail, Thompson warned the county staff of Tilson’s “extreme disruptive nature” and tendency to resist arrest, the officer said in the report.

Although Tilson continued to resist, “deputies were able to restrain him in a transport chair” and turn him over to the jail staff.

Tilson asked the officer about shooting him as Thompson read warrants for disorderly conduct and obstruction charges. 

“I explained I was just trying to calm him down and never had any intention of shooting anyone,” he said. 

It is unclear what caused Tilson’s death, but the GBI is working on his autopsy, agency spokeswoman Nelly Miles said.

“The GBI investigation is active and ongoing,” she said. 

The sheriff’s office will also conduct an investigation for “administrative purposes,” according to a statement.

“My greatest concern and priority is getting answers to what happened to Mr. Tilson,” Sheriff Eric J. Levett said in the statement. “I am deeply saddened by his death.”

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