Former inmate sues Fulton County, sheriff’s office over violent stabbing incident

Michael Horton says he was stabbed 13 times in the jail, where cells were routinely left unlocked.
Aerial photo shows the Fulton County Jail, Tuesday, August 22, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Aerial photo shows the Fulton County Jail, Tuesday, August 22, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

A former Fulton County Jail inmate who says he was stabbed 13 times in the jail is suing the county and the Fulton Sheriff’s Office alleging they are responsible for the dangerous conditions in the jail.

The legal complaint, filed on Wednesday on behalf of Michael Horton, said the jail cell doors were left unlocked and just one guard was monitoring the area at the time of his stabbing, which happened last May. Another inmate had been stabbed just two days prior, according to the filing. The physical condition of the facility itself has become so deteriorated that inmates are able to fashion makeshift weapons from pipes and broken flooring.

“You see the reports about the conditions there, the understaffing,” said Horton’s attorney, Tyrone J. Walls. “Those inmates are the responsibility of the county and the sheriff’s office.”

Horton had been booked into the Fulton jail in March 2023, jail records show. He is currently facing several charges including aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon after he allegedly threatened another person at gunpoint. Horton was released on a $5,000 bond last May — two weeks after his alleged stabbing, records show.

The Fulton Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The filing’s description of the conditions in the jail mirror the accounts of activists, county officials and even sheriff’s department itself. Since 2022, at least 27 people have died in the custody of Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat’s department. Three inmates have died so far this year.

During a hearing late last year, the sheriff’s general counsel Amelia Joiner told a panel of Georgia state lawmakers investigating the jail that overcrowding strains the physical limits of the aging facility and contributes to the violence. In the first 10 months of 2023, the jail had recorded 293 stabbings, 337 fights, 922 assaults and more than 1,186 confiscated shanks, she said.

The county and Sheriff Labat have sought to alleviate the overcrowding by housing inmates in other, less crowded jails and releasing more pre-trial detainees on county-paid ankle monitors. Fulton commissioners are considering constructing a new jail estimated to cost taxpayers nearly $2 billion.

Horton is seeking punitive damages for pain and suffering. Walls said his client spent a week recovering at Grady Memorial Hospital and then spent time in the jail’s infirmary when he returned.

“In the back of his mind, he is always going to be suffering mentally and emotionally,” Walls said.