Mentally ill man died of dehydration after nine days in Cobb jail

Reginald Wilson, 54, died of dehydration after more than a week at the Cobb jail (courtesy of the family of Reginald Wilson)

Reginald Wilson, 54, died of dehydration after more than a week at the Cobb jail (courtesy of the family of Reginald Wilson)

A 54-year-old man who suffered from severe mental illness died of dehydration after more than a week in the Cobb County jail, according to the county medical examiner’s autopsy.

Reginald Wilson was one of three inmates to die in custody of the Cobb Sheriff's Office recently. Another, Jessie Myles, 31, was found by the medical examiner to have died of an accidental overdose after swallowing drugs during his arrest.

The autopsy for the third, Bradley Emory, is still pending.

An attorney for Wilson’s family described the autopsy report, which says deputies twice used a Taser on Wilson at the jail, and that he grew increasingly weak in the days before his death, as “highly disturbing.”

“It appears to me that there are breaches of Cobb County’s own jail policy,” said Alex Weatherby of the firm Carr & Weatherby in Atlanta. He said the family would continue its investigation, including seeking outside experts, and has not ruled out legal action against the county.

The Sheriff’s Office said the case is under investigation.

Wilson had a history of bipolar disorder with psychotic features and drug abuse, the report says. He had struggled with homelessness and served time at Augusta State Medical prison for assault and false imprisonment. His family says he was also diagnosed with schizophrenia.

On Dec. 20, Wilson was arrested for a probation violation after he was found, barefoot and hallucinating, in the road outside Wellstar Cobb Hospital from which he had recently been discharged. According to the police report of the incident, he told officers he was seeing spirits.

At the jail, Wilson continued to display abnormal behavior and was eventually transferred to solitary confinement in a padded cell. Deputies used a Taser on him twice when he allegedly rushed them.

The medical examiner, Christopher Gulledge, reviewed video of Wilson in his cell and wrote that he was given appropriate amounts of food and beverage, but that he did not drink enough. Gulledge wrote that impaired thirst has been reported in some mental illnesses, determining Wilson died of “dehydration due to bipolar disorder.”

“During the period of time reviewed on camera, the decedent’s activity level slowly and gradually diminished,” Gulledge wrote. “He transitioned from being very active to more sluggish. However, he did not show significant signs of distress that would be easily interpreted to indicate the need for medical attention.”

Wilson was last seen moving by guards in the early hours of Dec. 29, according to the medical examiner’s investigative report.

“At that time, he was unclothed lying on the floor in feces and would move around some, but would not look up when the glass was tapped,” the report reads. Fifteen minutes later, Wilson was found unresponsive and later declared dead.

Weatherby, the attorney, said even though the medical examiner’s report listed the death as natural, that does not mean it wasn’t wrongful.

“We’re going to contact an expert in mental health care in jails and confirm what is our suspicion that this falls well below the standard of care,” he said. “It’s natural because he died of dehydration, which is a natural cause, but whether he should have died of dehydration is another kettle of fish.”