The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office may have new leadership, but that doesn’t mean the troubles within its ranks have gone away.
Five Clayton jail employees and contractors have been arrested in recent weeks as part of what Sheriff Levon Allen is calling “Operation Clean House.” Allen alleges they were involved in stealing from inmates, giving them contraband and planning an attack on one of them.
“I would rather have one good deputy than 100 crooked ones,” Allen said. “I won’t stop until I get every last one of them out of my agency.”
Allen became responsible for daunting challenges after being elected sheriff this year. He won a runoff election in April to replace Sheriff Victor Hill, who began serving an 18-month sentence in an Arkansas prison in May for violating the civil rights of inmates by strapping them into restraint chairs as punishment. Allen, who Hill called his godson, was promoted from chief deputy to interim sheriff in late December.
Five days before Allen was elected, a Clayton grand jury issued a 64-count racketeering indictment against jail detainees, alleging they, along with others outside the building, coordinated to run the lockup as a mini-criminal enterprise involving the exchange of money, drugs, weapons and bribes. Inmates’ families were allegedly coerced to pay thousands of dollars through cash apps, some of it used to purchase contraband in the jail.
Clayton District Attorney Tasha Mosley has said she expects more charges as investigators dig deeper into the alleged activity, which she said includes ties to gangs.
Meanwhile, detainees have for years complained about poor conditions, including overflowing sewage, crowded cells and alleged abuse by staff.
Twenty-six people who were held in the jail died between 2009 and October of last year, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation. Five of them died in 2021, the county’s highest annual total in more than a decade.
Among those who died in 2021 was a Carin Hatchett, 29, a mentally ill woman who suffered from an infection behind bars that triggered a toxic response throughout her body. She was taken to a hospital and succumbed to her illness a few days later.
One of the largest jails in the state, Clayton’s lockup has capacity for 1,920 people and was holding 1,712 in April, according to Georgia Department of Community Affairs records. Of those, 970 were awaiting trial.
Allen, who did not respond to requests for comments Friday, announced the arrests in a series of news releases in recent days. On Wednesday, the sheriff said he ordered the arrest of a contractor, Iyana Dixon, for financial transaction card fraud and theft, accusing her of stealing an inmate’s credit card and using it at a Macy’s. No details were released about how she allegedly gained access to the inmate’s card.
A day later, the sheriff said a fellow contractor, Sarai Ali, was arrested for allegedly aiding wanted people, sharing confidential information and encouraging people to steal from inmates. She has been charged with being a party to a crime and obstructing or hindering law enforcement officers.
Correctional Officer Sean Hollinshead, according to Allen, was taken into custody last month for his alleged role in a “vicious attack” on an inmate and charged with criminal negligence and violation of his oath of office.
Allen said Hollinshead was fired after he “knowingly, recklessly and without disregard for the safety of the inmate placed him in a high-risk housing unit, causing the inmate to receive life-threatening injuries, and did not render aid as the beating and stabbing were taking place.”
Four other inmates, whose names were not released, were also charged in the assault, Allen said. The name of the injured inmate was also not released.
Also last month, the sheriff accused Officer Tabitha Clifton and a nurse, Jessica Castellanos, of giving inmates contraband. He did not identify the contraband they allegedly brought into the jail.
The public defender for all five did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
“Let me repeat,” the sheriff said in one of his news releases, “keep playing silly games and you will win silly prizes. I can show you better than I can tell you.”
AJC staff writers Leon Stafford and Alexis Stevens contributed to this report.