AJC file photo: CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM
Photo: Casey Sykes/Casey Sykes
Photo: Casey Sykes/Casey Sykes

Lawsuit: Inmate killed in Fulton jail suffered ‘excruciating death’

The family of a man who died while in custody last September after he was repeatedly shocked with a Taser has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Fulton County jail and its health care provider. The suit, filed Wednesday in federal court, alleges “excruciating pain and suffering.”

Antonio May, 32, of Macon, had been taken to the Fulton County jail after he was arrested throwing rocks at the windows of the American Cancer Society building downtown. The suit says May struggled with mental health issues and had tested positive for amphetamines at the time of his arrest.

He arrived on what deputies had allegedly dubbed “Taser Tuesday,” according to to the complaint. Attorneys for May’s family said that phrase came from inmates and employees at the jail.

“What does that speak to the condition and treatment of individuals in Fulton County Jail?” said Teddy Reese, one of the family’s lawyers, who appeared at a Wednesday news conference outside the federal courthouse.

Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson is named in the suit. Through spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan, he declined to comment.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said May was combative with jail staff, leading to a confrontation. Jail staff then used a stun gun on May and pepper-sprayed him.

After he was decontaminated from the pepper spray, he became unresponsive and died, GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said.

May had been taken to the jail after Grady Memorial Hospital physicians diagnosed him with Substance Abuse Psychotic Disorder. Upon his arrival, May told a medical technician with NaphCare, Inc., the jail’s medical provider, that he was suicidal, the complaint alleges.

“As opposed to putting Mr. May in the Special Medical Observation Unit at the Fulton County Jail and giving him detoxifying chemical sedation, due to his mental health issues and due to him testing positive for amphetamines, the medical professionals at NaphCare, Inc. released Mr. May to the jail deputies to place Mr. May in a general holding cell,” the suit states.

While in the holding cell, May allegedly exposed himself, said attorney Michael Harper, who also represents the dead man’s family. Six deputies from the jail’s Direct Action Response Team unit responded and tased, beat and pepper sprayed May repeatedly, the suit alleges.

May was then placed in a restraining chair, a spit mask on is face, and taken to shower for decontamination.

“When the water from the shower did not remove all of the pepper spray the deputies put a water hose to Mr. May’s face while he was restrained in the chair,” the complaint says. May was pronounced dead minutes later.

“(May) was failed by everyone he came into contact with from the moment he arrived at the jail, which culminated with him being tortured and killed and lying in a pool of his own blood,” Harper said.

The Fulton County Jail, which opened in 1989, has previously faced legal action over its treatment of inmates. Federal court oversight of the facility ended in 2015, 11 years after the Southern Center for Human Rights sued, alleging crowded, dirty and dangerous conditions. The Southern Center also sued in 1999, claiming the facility provided inmates with inadequate health care.

In 2017, the jail’s medical contract was awarded to Correct Care, which subcontracted with the Morehouse School of Medicine to provide doctors and nurses. The contract was terminated after five inmates died within 75 days of each other late in 2017. Three, believed to be in withdrawal from opioid addiction, committed suicide. The other deaths were a diabetic man whose glucose levels were spiking and a woman who died naked on the floor of her cell after complaining she was having difficultly breathing.

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