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‘This was plain murder’: Family calls for criminal probe after jail death

Family and friends of a Macon man who died in the Fulton County Jail earlier this month are calling on the district attorney's office to investigate and press criminal charges against the officers who pepper-sprayed and fired a Taser at the inmate.

It’s still unclear exactly how Antonio May, a 32-year-old father of three, died Sept. 11, hours after he was arrested on trespassing charges in Atlanta. Attorney Michael Harper said the final autopsy results are pending, and there are conflicting reports about what happened inside May’s holding cell.

“We're here for answers as to why this man died,” Harper said at a news conference Tuesday, surrounded by May’s family members and more than a dozen other supporters. “This was a tragic, senseless death.”

MORE: Fulton inmate dies after being shocked with Taser, pepper-sprayed

After being arrested, May was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital and then to the Fulton County Jail for booking, his legal team said.

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According to a report from the Fulton County Medical Examiner, May was in a holding cell when a deputy realized he was naked and masturbating. When he failed to comply with officers’ demands to stop, six deputies entered the cell and attempted to restrain him, the report said.

May was shot by two Tasers and hit with pepper spray, according to the report. After May was handcuffed and taken to a shower, deputies sprayed him with a hose to get the pepper spray out of his eyes.

Later, as a physician assistant was checking on May, he became unresponsive, fell to the floor and died.

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the case.

“It was so hard for us to take this when we heard this,” said Stephanie Lewis, May’s aunt. “We want justice for him. He can’t speak; he can’t tell his side of the story, but that’s why we want justice.”

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the case “to respect the family and allow the investigators to conduct their inquiry without interference,” a statement said.

District Attorney Paul Howard’s office is waiting for the GBI to complete its investigation before taking any action, a spokesman said.

Family members at the news conference, including May’s 13-year-old son, became emotional as the speakers detailed the case. They held signs with pictures of May and his family, and donned matching shirts that said #AntonioMay and “Justice for Antonio May.”

One witness, another inmate, provided an alternate account of what happened before May died, Harper said. That inmate said May was knocking on the cell door and asking for water when the guards became angry and entered the cell.

Antonio May (Photo: Fulton County Sheriff's Office)

Harper said there was no need for the deputies to go into the cell and be as aggressive as the reports claim.

“We believe this was plain murder,” he said, adding that he wants the officers involved to be suspended during the investigation. “He was bothering no one.”

The medical examiner’s report states that May’s urine tested positive for several illicit substances. In that case, the lawyers said, a Taser should never have been used.

“This will not be an anti-police case,” said Teddy Reese, another of May’s lawyers. “This will be a pro-truth case.”

The lawyers said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams sent her condolences and joined their calls for a criminal investigation. 

Georgia jails — and Fulton’s specifically — have been plagued by a slew of inmate deaths over the years. An AJC investigation earlier this year found that the Fulton jail had more than 50 inmate deaths over the past decade, spanning a number of causes including suicide and homicide. It ranked No. 1 in the state for inmate deaths.

RELATED: Fulton County to end Morehouse contract for inmate care after 5 die

Last year, five inmates died at the Fulton County Jail within a 75-day period. Harper said the facility had a “culture of death.”

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