Fulton jail’s medical provider exiting amid probe into inmate death

Ben Crump, attorney for Lashawn Thompson’s family, holds up his hand and chants as he speaks to supporters and members of the press outside the Fulton County Jail, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Atlanta. Lashawn Thompson, 35, was discovered unresponsive in the jail’s psychiatric wing covered in bed bugs in September, according to a Fulton County Medical Examiner report. His body showed no obvious signs of trauma and the cause of death was undetermined, the report said, noting a “severe bed bug infestation” in the jail. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Ben Crump, attorney for Lashawn Thompson’s family, holds up his hand and chants as he speaks to supporters and members of the press outside the Fulton County Jail, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Atlanta. Lashawn Thompson, 35, was discovered unresponsive in the jail’s psychiatric wing covered in bed bugs in September, according to a Fulton County Medical Examiner report. His body showed no obvious signs of trauma and the cause of death was undetermined, the report said, noting a “severe bed bug infestation” in the jail. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The Fulton County Jail’s medical contractor has decided to pull out of its agreement with the county for providing inmate health care, according to a memo Sheriff Patrick Labat sent county commissioners this week.

Labat’s announcement about Birmingham-based NaphCare comes days after the family of Lashawn Thompson, 35, who was found covered in bed bugs after he died in jail last year, called for an investigation and for the jail’s closure.

NaphCare will stop providing medical services at the jail on May 31, Labat said in his memo, adding that he is searching for a replacement contractor.

Commissioners approved a $27 million renewal contract in September with NaphCare after Labat asked to renew it. NaphCare is also the medical provider for the Gwinnett County Jail and it’s being sued for medical malpractice by the family of a 26-year-old Dacula man who died there from a bleeding intestinal ulcer.

NaphCare could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

At Labat’s request Wednesday, Fulton commissioners approved an emergency expenditure of about $5.4 million for detainee health tracking, cameras and other upgrades at the jail.

The jail has capacity for 2,688 but was holding 3,297 in March, according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs records; 3,028 were awaiting trial.

Consultants have recommended a new jail with double the capacity, but the proposed price tag is $2 billion and would force several county functions to move.

Labat told the commissioners that his “heart goes out to the Thompson family.”

“These conditions are exacerbated by the rapidly deteriorating facility,” the sheriff said in his memo. “At this point, the status quo is unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is looking into Thompson’s death, according to his family’s attorney.

“I hope they issue subpoenas and do a full investigation,” attorney Michael Harper said, “and prosecute anyone who is guilty.”

A Justice Department official has asked for a jail incident report, medical records and an autopsy report, Harper said. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. Harper said he heard from Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis’ office that it has been investigating Thompson’s death.

A spokesman for Willis said he could not comment on “any investigation at this stage,” but said, “we do investigate alleged crimes occurring at the Fulton County Jail, whether the allegations are against inmates or personnel employed there.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene have also taken an interest in the case.

“The Department of Justice has an affirmative obligation to safeguard the civil rights of incarcerated people, whether they are held in federal, state, or local custody,” Ossoff, the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Greene wrote to Labat, seeking details about the case. Labat said his office is investigating.

Supporters for Lashawn Thompson’s family rally outside the Fulton County Jail, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Atlanta. Lashawn Thompson, 35, was discovered unresponsive in the jail’s psychiatric wing covered in bed bugs in September, according to a Fulton County Medical Examiner report. His body showed no obvious signs of trauma and the cause of death was undetermined, the report said, noting a “severe bed bug infestation” in the jail. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Thompson, 35, of Winter Haven, Florida, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, Harper said. He wound up in the jail after Georgia Tech police encountered him sleeping in a park outside a childcare center in Midtown Atlanta in June of last year. The officers found a warrant for his arrest in Dothan, Alabama, on a 2017 car theft charge. Tech police also charged Thompson with simple battery for allegedly spitting on one of them.

Three months later, he was discovered unresponsive in the jail’s psychiatric wing, according to a Fulton County Medical Examiner report. The cause of death was undetermined, the report said, noting a “severe bed bug infestation” in the jail.

On Thursday, Thompson’s family rallied with dozens of supporters outside the jail.

“When I got the phone call, I was so heartbroken. I called around to the jail. I emailed the sheriff. I talked to the medical examiner. Nobody would help me,” said Thompson’s sister, Shenita Thompson. “I want to get down to the truth of what happened to my brother.”

She was joined at the rally by Harper and prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

“We want justice for Lashawn,” Crump said.

Labat met with Crump, Harper and Thompson’s family moments before the rally and then appeared with them as they spoke with reporters.

“The one thing you will get is accountability,” Labat said.

AJC staff writers Jim Gaines and Jozsef Papp contributed to this report.

Fulton County Sheriff Patrick "Pat" Labat speaks during a press conference outside the Fulton County Jail, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Atlanta. Lashawn Thompson, 35, was discovered unresponsive in the jail’s psychiatric wing covered in bed bugs in September, according to a Fulton County Medical Examiner report. His body showed no obvious signs of trauma and the cause of death was undetermined, the report said, noting a “severe bed bug infestation” in the jail. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

About the Author