ACLU asks Cobb commissioners for action over jail conditions

120619 MARIETTA–  Bill Jenkins speaks out during a town hall meeting about his experiences at the Cobb County Detention Center after saying that he was released from jail the previous night. The meeting was hosted by the ACLU of Georgia, Cobb County Southern Christian Leadership Conference and La Gente de Cobb to discuss the conditions at the Cobb County Detention Center Monday, Dec. 9, 2019 at Life Church in Marietta, Ga. 
PHOTO BY ELISSA BENZIE
120619 MARIETTA– Bill Jenkins speaks out during a town hall meeting about his experiences at the Cobb County Detention Center after saying that he was released from jail the previous night. The meeting was hosted by the ACLU of Georgia, Cobb County Southern Christian Leadership Conference and La Gente de Cobb to discuss the conditions at the Cobb County Detention Center Monday, Dec. 9, 2019 at Life Church in Marietta, Ga. PHOTO BY ELISSA BENZIE

Credit: Elissa Benzie

Credit: Elissa Benzie

Calling conditions inside the Cobb County jail “deplorable,” the American Civil Liberties Union has asked Cobb commissioners to pass a resolution “directing” the sheriff to create a citizen review board, among other actions.

The request follows a series of inmate deaths and a growing outcry from the community. Seven people have died in the custody of Sheriff Neil Warren's jail since last December.

The sheriff is an elected official with broad authority over his office. But the commission controls funding and wields considerable political leverage.

“There is a dark cloud over Cobb County,” ACLU Political Director Chris Bruce told the commission at a meeting Monday night. “The Cobb County Detention Center is in deplorable shape and is an unfit area for people to stay.”

Bruce referenced a town hall meeting the ACLU held last week where former inmates, their family members and defense attorneys shared stories of what they described as inhuman treatment —including the denial of medical care and access to legal counsel.

Bruce called on the commission to pass a resolution “directing” the sheriff to: ensure inmates are not on lockdown; ensure families have the right to check on relatives in custody; comply with open records requests; fully explain all deaths in custody; create a temporary citizen review board; and conduct an independent financial and performance audit of the jail.

Bruce was joined by John Coleman, the father of an inmate who said his son has been denied medical care.

“It’ not just my son,” he said. “It’s the sons of hundreds of men, and the brothers of hundreds of men from our community.”

Commissioner Lisa Cupid said she had previously met with Warren to discuss similar concerns, but he has been unresponsive to her since she attended the ACLU town hall.

“I feel now that door has seemingly closed because I extended myself to residents,” she said. “My only interest from Day One … is to help to make sure that the voices and concerns of Cobb citizens are being addressed.”

Speaking after the meeting, Commission Chair Mike Boyce expressed reluctance to engage in “Monday morning quarter-backing” of the sheriff.

“We’re going to have to have a discussion here among the board as to what we can, as a board, do legitimately and within the law,” he said. “We are not going to get out in front of another elected official.”

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