Last year, more than 3,900 Georgia inmates were caught with contraband cellphones. This week, it appears one may have been in the hands of convicted killer Jeffrey Hazelwood.
Though electronic recording devices aren’t allowed in state prisons, somehow a picture that appears to be Hazelwood was posted online Thursday on Instagram. There was no way to confirm whether he took and posted the photo himself, but the Department of Corrections was investigating the post after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked about it.
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“We cannot confirm if this is a recent photo,” Gwendolyn Hogan, DOC manager of public affairs, said in an email.
In May, Hazelwood pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murdering two teenagers behind a Roswell Publix and was sentenced to life in prison. Hazelwood, 21, is currently at Baldwin State Prison in Milledgeville, according to the DOC.
The “selfie” that seems to be Hazelwood was posted Thursday morning using the “insta story” on Instagram, meaning the post remains on the app for 24 hours. The picture appears to be taken inside a prison, and Hazelwood is wearing a white shirt.
The AJC contacted the DOC regarding the photo, but investigators could not locate it, a spokeswoman said.
“We did not find any posts but our investigations team has been alerted,” Jeal Salter, DOC spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
The DOC requested a copy of the post, and The AJC provided a screen grab of the image. Shortly before noon Friday, the photo was still on the app, but 30 minutes later, it was gone.
State corrections officials have spent millions in an ongoing struggle to keep contraband, like cellphones, out of prisons. According to data provided to The AJC earlier this year, nearly 22,000 “incidents” that involved wireless devices were reported in state prisons, halfway houses and other state-overseen correctional facilities between 2012 and last year. The incident data covers fights, prison riots, discoveries of contraband and other disturbances.
The annual number of incidents involving contraband cellphones peaked at more than 5,000 in 2015, but dropped down to 3,900 last year.
The prisons with the most cellphone-related incidents in the four-year period were Dooly State Prison and Ware State Prison, both of which are in South Georgia and are among the state’s larger prisons. The facility where Hazelwood is being held, Baldwin State Prison near Milledgeville, had 363 incidents involving cellphones in that period, including 100 last year.
It was not clear who posted Hazelwood’s photo on Instagram, but even visitors to inmates in Georgia are banned from bringing in cellphones or cameras.
Hogan, the DOC spokeswoman, said the agency does have video visitation for our inmates, but it occurs at kiosks and not on tablets.
In the early-morning hours of Aug. 1, 2016, Hazelwood shot and killed Natalie Henderson and Carter Davis behind the King Plaza Publix. Natalie and Carter, both 17, were to start their senior years of high school.
Hours later, a delivery driver found the teenagers’ bodies and called police. Surveillance cameras captured images of Hazelwood, who at the time had shoulder-length hair, and the SUV he was driving.
Hazelwood, who was first diagnosed with mental illness as a child, had been prescribed anti-psychotic medication, a doctor testified at his competency hearing. But Hazelwood later admitted he hadn’t been taking his medication when he killed Natalie and Carter.
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— Jennifer Peebles contributed to this report