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'I can't breathe': Georgia man dies in custody after hours of begging for help

Surveillance video from the Cobb County jail shows Kevil Wingo collapsing multiple times as nurses and deputies ignore his cries for help.

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — An 11Alive Reveal investigation has uncovered a video of a man detained by the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office who is repeatedly heard by staff screaming that he could not breathe, while deputies and medical personnel watched him slowly die.

It happened in September 2019, but details of his death were concealed for nine months until the sheriff’s office concluded its internal affairs investigation this past June.

The man who died in custody is Kevil Wingo, a 36-year-old Atlanta resident arrested for drug possession and booked into the Cobb County Detention Center.

Video inside the jail does not have sound, but recorded interviews conducted by sheriff investigators paint a picture of what happened the night Wingo died. Some of the interviews were conducted within hours of his death and include nearly 40 sheriff's employees, medical staff, and fellow inmates.

The internal investigation report by the department says no staff member committed a crime or violated any jail policy. The report did not recommend disciplinary action taken on any employee. 

Wingo's family says what jail staffers did was a crime, and they need to be held accountable.  

How it Happened

When Wingo arrived on Sept. 24, the jail placed him into the infirmary for “detoxification monitoring.” Staff prescribed medicine to treat nausea after he told the jail he used cocaine within the past 72 hours. Three days later, deputies returned him to the general population.

On Sept. 28, Wingo complained he had severe abdominal pain. Fellow inmates, deputies and some medical staff immediately noticed Wingo appeared ill.

RELATED: NAACP, Commissioner call for criminal investigation after 11Alive exposed death of a man begging for help

Credit: WXIA

One of them included Deputy Matthew Howard, who called the infirmary. 

“He has been throwing up for a while now since I came on shift,” said Howard to a charge nurse named Yvette Burton. The nurse then asked the deputy if he saw Wingo vomit. “Yes, ma'am. I’ve seen him throwing up,” said Howard.

A short time later, the infirmary’s phone rang again. This time it was from Natalie Chance, a nurse in charge of administering medicine to inmates. 

“He’s like, laying on the floor screaming, he’s sweating. He says he’s got abdominal pain. He can’t fake this,” Chance said to Burton.

Multiple inmates also witnessed Wingo vomit and complain about an ulcer, which is a painful sore that can develop in the intestines or the stomach. If left untreated, it can tear and allow bile to leak into the abdomen.

Investigators interviewed about a dozen inmates who were detained with Wingo. All but one of them believed Wingo was in severe pain and overheard him complain to deputies he was experiencing abdominal issues. Some of them heard Wingo specifically mention his ulcer.

“Within a couple of seconds, he just broke out in a big, big sweat,” said Billy Smith, a fellow inmate. “[Deputies] looking at us, like ‘He’s just detoxing.’ We’re like, ‘No, you need to come get him.”

An inmate named Robert Ward said he didn’t think deputies responded quick enough. 

"What happened is the guy was in pain and nobody took him serious. He was laying on the ground crying for help and no one took him seriously,” said Ward.

Just before midnight, jail video shows a deputy transferred Wingo to the infirmary in a wheelchair hunched over and wincing in pain.

► Click Here: Audio of internal affairs interview with nurse Natalie Chance

Credit: WXIA

Deputy Quintin Appleby performed the transfer at 11:52 p.m. He also heard Wingo complain about an ulcer. 

“He was saying, ‘I’m not going to make it. I’m about to fall out the wheelchair.’ And, I was kind of like, ‘No, you gonna be alright, we almost there,” said Appleby.

At the time, Wingo’s vitals showed no red flags, but for more than seven hours after, the father of three repeatedly begged to be sent to the hospital.

Wingo Collapses Multiple Times

Jail video shows him knocking on the glass door of his cell trying to get nurses’ attention and collapsing at least five times. Three employees said they heard Wingo complain that “he could not breathe.” Two believed him. One did not. None of them acted to save his life.

“When he yelled at me, yelling in the cell block, he said, ‘I need to go to the hospital, I can’t breathe.’ And, I talked to him for a minute, and I was like, ‘If you’re hollering, you are breathing,'” said Lynn Marshall, a deputy assigned to the infirmary.

A lab technician and a jail secretary were so concerned with Wingo’s condition, they asked a different charge nurse, Annaleen Visser, if they could take his vitals. Visser said no.

“He actually fell backwards onto the floor and crawled to the window and was asking again begging for help, saying he could not breathe," said Tiffany Womack, the lab technician in an interview with sheriff investigators.

At the time, Wellstar Health System, based out of Marietta, staffed and operated the infirmary at the detention center. After more than 20 years, it ended its contract this past May. WellPath, LLC is the current medical provider for the jail.

Two inmates detained in the same infirmary cell complained Wingo was falling into their beds. Both said they heard Wingo complain about his stomach or an ulcer. 

“It’s like he couldn’t figure out how to stand up,” said Marcus Stevens, a fellow inmate.

Infirmary staff continued to watch it all unfold, including Tiana Davis, a secretary whose desk sits directly in front the infirmary cell where Wingo was detained.

"So, once he is banging on the door, he fell back," said Davis to an investigator. "So, I’m assuming he couldn’t breathe…I saw him fall back.”

► Click Here: Audio of internal affairs interview with secretary Tiana Davis

Nurses Disregard Pleads for Help

According interviews with investigators, Visser believed Wingo was detoxing and only wanted to go to the hospital to get pain medicine.

She admitted to refusing to take his vitals or allowing anyone else to do it. Visser claimed she didn’t do it because Wingo appeared rowdy. 

“He was loud, he was, I don’t know what he was saying, he was just disruptive,” said Visser in an interview with investigators.

After sheriff's investigators watched the jail video in the infirmary, they told Visser they did not believe Wingo was rowdy. “We’ve seen the video, and I have yet to see him throughout the video acting out at all,” said Investigator Cody Driskell to the charge nurse.

► WATCH | Full interview with charge nurse Annaleen Visser

Visser claimed she didn’t know Wingo was in pain or had trouble breathing. She also claimed no on her shift told her Wingo needed help.

Davis and Womack say that’s not true. 

“Me and the secretary both asked the charge nurse, Annaleen [Visser], ‘Hey, he’s asking for help, can we help?’ She said, ‘No,’” said Womack, who is also a trained EMT.

In an interview with investigators, Deputy Marshall also believed Visser heard the same concerns. 

“I mean, they all heard me. Well, I said that he’s saying he can’t breathe and I know Annallen [Visser] said he just wants to the hospital, he’ll be okay. She was the one that said put him in close-ops,” said Marshall.

After growing tired of hearing Wingo complain he was dying, Marshall said Visser then requested deputies send him to a padded isolation room, which are holding cells reserved for inmates who self-harm or are suicidal. According to Visser’s interview, and dozens of others, no jail staff saw Wingo try to hurt himself. The jail’s video supports it.

Despite no sign of self-harm, Deputy Marshall complied with Visser’s request. 

“Hi, do you have a pad open?” said Marshall on the phone with another jailer asking for room availability. “I’ve got an idiot playing games trying to get to the hospital. He’s just playing around.”

When Marshall opened Wingo’s infirmary cell to bring him to the padded room, he collapsed onto the floor. It took deputies nine minutes to pick him from the ground.

On the way to the isolation room, he collapsed again and was unable to walk. Deputies put Wingo in a wheelchair and kept moving.

WATCH | Deputy Marshall's internal affairs interview 

Dying Alone

When jail staff placed Wingo inside the padded room 7:48 a.m., they stripped him of his clothes, left two cups of water inside and closed the door. 

Jail policy requires staff to physically look inside isolation rooms every 15 minutes. According to jail video, that didn’t happen.

When it’s time to check on Wingo, Deputy Paul Wilkerson, who was assigned to monitor him, walks past the pad’s window two different times and does not look inside.

Credit: WXIA

RELATED: Cobb sheriff says complaints about jail's water are overblown

Deputies and others have the ability to monitor inmates in isolation rooms through cameras, but it’s not known if that happened. There is also no way to track it.

Within an hour of placing Wingo in the padded room, Wilkerson found him cold to the touch and not breathing.

Thirty minutes later, an ambulance transported him to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital five miles away. A doctor pronounced Wingo dead at 9:51 a.m.

Wingo’s family believes the sheriff’s office and the medical staff are directly responsible for his death.

"At the end of the day, I feel like he shouldn't have died like that. Like, he died alone. He died in a room screaming for help and he's asking y'all for help," said Tiffany Wingo, his sister. 

Wingo leaves behind three children. Kieara Wingo is his oldest. 

“How can so many people just sit around and watch somebody suffer like that and not help?” she said.

Credit: WXIA

Both can’t stop thinking about what Wingo was saying to himself alone and dying. 

“I feel like he was just screaming for my momma. He just knew he wasn’t supposed to die that way,” said Tiffany.

Timothy Gardner is the family’s attorney. 

“He wasn’t loud, he wasn’t disruptive. He was in pain,” said Gardner. “At the end of the day, they just didn’t care. There was nothing he could have done to make them care. It’s who they are.”

Over the weekend, Gardner’s law firm published the website, kevilwingo.com. The website includes a 45 minute documentary with expert medical witnesses and recorded interviews conducted by sheriff investigators.

The video claims nurses falsely admitted Wingo into the infirmary and listed someone named, “Dr. Hindi,” as the admitting physician. Gardner says there is no evidence that Dr. Hindi ever worked at the Cobb County Detention Center.

The documentary claims Dr. Hindi is a pseudonym the nursing staff used when they performed a doctor’s task.

The documentary also points out that Burton wrote that Wingo was admitted to the infirmary, per Dr. Hindi, for nausea and vomiting related to detoxing. She never mentions an ulcer.

No Action Taken

On June 12, the sheriff’s department concluded its investigation into Wingo’s death. It found no one committed a crime or violated any jail policy. The report did not recommend disciplinary action taken on any employee.

Cobb County Medical Examiner Dr. Abraham Philip ruled Wingo’s death natural, caused by a perforated gastric ulcer. Lab tests did not find illicit drugs in his blood.

Philip released his report on Wingo’s death on Feb. 10, 2020. In it, he says “gastric ulcers in crack cocaine users has been noted to have an increased incidence.”

 READ | The full medical examiners report by Cobb County

The medical examiner’s report also states it reviewed all of the video in the infirmary the morning of Wingo’s death. Philips wrote that it was clear Wingo “exhibited erratic behavior, including multiple complaints / requests for medical attention, as well as stumbling and falling on other inmates and beds in the infirmary cell allocated to him.”

11Alive requested interviews with Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and Wellstar administration three weeks before publishing this story. The interview requests included an email thoroughly outlining 11Alive’s findings, edited jail video and interviews related to the events leading up to Wingo’s death.

Both declined interviews.

Wingo’s family has filed a complaint against the two nurses with the Georgia Board of Nursing.

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According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, Visser has been a registered nurse since 1997. The state issued Burton a nursing license in 2011. Both do not appear to have been ever been disciplined by the state. The Reveal’s attempts to contact them for an interview were unsuccessful.

In an email sent on Aug. 7, Sheriff Warren said any loss of life at the detention center is tragic. He also defended his staff.

“The dedicated men and women of the Cobb Sheriff’s Office work in one of the most difficult environments imaginable but are always attentive to inmates who are in need of medical care. At the end of the day, we are law enforcement officers – not medical professionals. For this reason, I have always made it a priority to contract with the best health care providers available in hopes of giving inmates access to the same caliber of doctors and nurses that they would see if they were not in our custody,” said Warren.

The sheriff says county attorneys have asked him not to speak about Wingo’s death. 

“I do hope that the entirety of the information available to the media is used in this report for the purposes of being as accurate as possible,” said Warren.

RELATED: ACLU calls for investigation into Cobb Jail water

Credit: WXIA

In a prepared statement, Wellstar says it was unaware of the full circumstances surrounding Wingo’s death until 11Alive sent the jail video and interviews with its former staff.

“What you shared with us last week, both in the edited video and in your email, is deeply concerning and does not reflect our values or how we care for patients. Prior to last week, we had not seen any video nor were we aware of any specific details or claims around these events which occurred nearly a year ago. We immediately sought additional information including a copy of the entire Sherriff Department’s investigation,” wrote a Wellstar Health System spokesperson on Aug. 3.

Twelve days later, Wellstar sent a follow-up response. It now says its nursing staff failed Wingo.

"While there is more to do and we continue to review the facts and circumstances surrounding Mr. Wingo’s death, it is clear to us now that more should have been done to assist Mr. Wingo at the detention center, including from members of the Wellstar’s Detention Center team directly in charge of his medical care,” said a Wellstar company spokesperson in an email on Aug. 15. “What we have seen and learned of Mr. Wingo’s experience at the Detention Center is heartbreaking and unacceptable.”

The family's attorney believes what happened to Wingo was a crime. He says Wingo begged for medical help; multiple employees heard him complain he could not breath and staff intentionally ignored him.

His law firm planned to send a letter to the Cobb County District Attorney and Gov. Brian Kemp this week requesting a criminal investigation into Wingo’s death.

“Their behavior makes you question not only their responsibilities as nurses and sworn officers, but as human beings,” said Gardner. “You’re going to be held accountable, that’s a crime.”

Who was Kevil Wingo?

By all accounts, Wingo loved his family and they loved him back even more. His sister, Tiffany, says the Carver High School graduate made it a point to make it to play dates and big moments for his children.

Credit: WXIA

“He didn’t miss any function when it came to the kids, even nieces and nephews. He didn’t miss nothing,” said Tiffany.

Wingo was a car enthusiast and loved antique Chevy automobiles. His daughter Kieara, who graduated high school last year, hoped her father would teach her how to drive. 

“He was a good dad. He always wanted us to spend time with him,” said Kieara.

Wingo has two other children, Erika, who is 16-years-old and Kevil Jr., who is 11. They all enjoyed going with their father to Stars and Strikes Family Entertainment Center in Stone Mountain to play arcade games and to watch movies.

Tiffany says her brother’s last job was with a temp agency, but he dreamed of owning his own trucking company. Wingo loved to go on long road trips. 

"Me, my momma and him. It's one of our dreams we all had in common, starting our own trucking business, because we all like to drive," said Tiffany.

According to the family, Wingo loved playing football and basketball when he was younger. He was six-foot-three.

Wingo was outgoing and would do anything to make people laugh, including dressing up in his mother’s clothes when he was a child. 

“He’d just go out on the porch and see who would get the most honks,” said Tiffany.

Credit: WXIA

Public records show police have arrested Wingo at least three different times for cocaine possession since 2006.

When officers with the Cobb County Police Department arrested him in September 2019, they thought they smelled marijuana in his car. When the officer did not find weed, he looked harder and found a digital scale and a small amount of white residue underneath the driver’s seat believed to be cocaine.

Six days later, deputies found him not breathing in a padded isolation room at the Cobb County Detention Center.

Wingo’s family says his drug use did not define him. They believe law enforcement and the medical staff didn’t act to save his life because they only saw him as a criminal, and not as a human being.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what we’re going through," said Tiffany. “Somebody needs to be held accountable.”

The Reveal is an investigative show exposing inequality, injustice, and ineptitude created by people in power throughout Georgia and across the country.   

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