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'Believe them': A multi-part investigation into deaths at the Cobb County Jail

An ongoing Reveal investigation exposed the death of a man begging for help to nurses and guards for hours and dozens of other deaths in the facility.

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — ‘Believe Them’ is an episode of The Reveal dedicated to a series of investigations involving an Atlanta man who died in sheriff's office custody and the history of complaints surrounding the Georgia jail where he was detained.

Investigative reporter Andy Pierrotti uncovered evidence that showed deputies and nursing staff repeatedly ignored the man’s pleas for help and failed to hold anyone accountable for his death. The investigation also sheds light on how a sheriff attempted to conceal jail death records from the public during an election year and the state’s lack of oversight into inmate fatalities.

In direct response to our reporting, a district attorney requested a federal investigation, a judge ordered a sheriff to produce jail records to The Reveal, two jail employees were put on administrative leave, Georgia’s top law enforcement agency opened an administrative review into Kevil Wingo’s death and a state representative now plans to file proposed legislation that could require independent investigations into future jail deaths. 

Currently, Georgia sheriffs are allowed to investigate their own staff when someone dies in their custody.

Part 1 - The Original Investigation

Kevil Wingo complained of abdominal pain for hours and begged to be sent to the hospital. Instead, jail staff put him in a padded room where he died. 

READ MORE: 'I can't breathe': Man dies in custody after hours of begging for help

Part 2 - A Second Pair of Eyes

A nursing expert gives The Reveal her analysis of Wingo’s care. The NAACP calls for a criminal investigation. 

READ MORE: Jail nurses ignored dying man's calls for help | Now there's a call for criminal investigation

Part 3 - Family Pleas For Accountability

Wingo’s family and community organizers hold a protest outside the detention center where he died.

READ MORE: 'How can somebody investigate themselves?': Ga. lawmaker drafts bill for jail death investigation oversight

Part 4 - District Attorney Takes Action

Nearly a year after Wingo’s death, the Cobb County District Attorney makes a stunning announcement by calling for a federal investigation into recent deaths at the detention center. 

READ MORE: After 11Alive investigation revealed heartbreaking video of man's death, case gets a second look

Part 5 - Records Concealed from the Public

11Alive filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Neil Warren and his department for withholding jail death records from the same facility where Wingo died during an election year. 

READ MORE: Lawsuit filed against Cobb County Sheriff to release records on jail deaths

Part 6 - Judge Orders Sheriff To Produce Jail Records

A judge sides with 11Alive and orders the sheriff to produce jail death records. Testimony in the trial shows the sheriff created an illusionary investigation into some of the deaths in an attempt to withhold records from The Reveal

READ MORE: Judge orders Cobb County Sheriff to turn over files on jail deaths

Part 7- More Questionable Care

After the judge orders the sheriff to release jail death records, The Reveal uncovers a mentally ill inmate who repeatedly threatened to harm himself before ultimately killing himself.

The inmate’s family warned jail staff multiple times about their son’s mental health before his suicide. 

READ MORE: 'Y'all guaranteed me that you'd watch him': Father warned jail staff his son was suicidal before his death

PART 8 - Bill Introduced

Since this investigation, a Georgia state lawmaker filed proposed legislation he believes could add more accountability and trust in Georgia’s detention system.

The bill titled, the “Inmate Mental Health Act,” is authored by Representative David Wilkerson. If passed, it would mandate the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate all future jail deaths. 

“So, by having someone else look at it who are trained investigators, it gives us, the public, reassurance. Plus, it allows the jail to make corrections if things need to be corrected,” Wilkerson said.

RELATED: 'Something needed to be done': Ga. lawmaker files bill in response to man who died begging for help in county jail

Wilkerson’s bill also mandates jails perform mental health evaluations within 12 hours of detaining an inmate and provide 24-hour access to a mental health professional.

“If someone is in jail and they are dealing with a mental health issue and not getting treatment, that destroys a family and it also destroys our trust and confidence in law enforcement that’s doing the job that they were elected to do,” Wilkerson said.

The proposed legislation would also require GBI to track all jail deaths and how inmates die.

PART 9 - Reginald Wilson's Death 

After a judge ruled in favor of 11Alive's lawsuit for Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren to release public records, evidence showed the heartbreaking death of another man in the Cobb County Detention Center. 

In December 2018, Reginald Wilson was taken to the jail on a probation violation during a mental health crisis. 

RELATED: Covered in feces, man died of dehydration in Georgia jail 'that looks like a friggin horse stall'

Wilson was placed in a padded room, where he smeared his own feces on the wall, stopped eating, drinking and refused to take medication. 

Despite spiraling into psychosis, records show the jail’s psychiatrist never saw Wilson. Infirmary staff never sent him to the hospital either. During that time, deputies tased him at least twice. 

After spending eight days in a padded room, a deputy found Wilson not breathing and covered in his own feces for 18 hours.

According to the medical examiner, Wilson died from “Dehydration due to Bipolar Disorder.”

In a recorded interrogation, an investigator appeared frustrated over Wilson’s treatment. “This guy lay in shit and trash for three days…you know, I don’t understand why he wasn’t given food…and the end of all this, he died in his cell that looks like a friggin horse stall,” the investigator said.

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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