“The family is devastated that no one will be held criminally liable for Shali’s death. However, the struggle for Justice for Shali is far from over,” said Attorney Mawuli Davis, who is representing the Wilson family.
Rockdale County District Attorney Alisha A. Johnson officially announced the conclusion of the four-month Special Grand Jury investigation into the death of 22-year-old Shali Tilson, saying there is no evidence that Rockdale County Jail administrators criminally caused his death.
Johnson released the findings of the Grand Jury’s 84-page report on Sept. 25. She said during an interview with On Common Ground News, that although no one was indicted, she plans to follow the Grand Jury’s recommendation to review the actions of former Sgt. Dan Lang for possible prosecution. Lang allegedly falsified jail log records stating that 15-minute mandatory checks were made on Tilson. Lang already faces grand theft charges in an unrelated case. He was assigned to work at the jail after he was demoted for stealing guns from the Sheriff’s Office evidence room and pawning them for $40,000 in cash. He resigned on April 9, 2018.
Johnson said while the Grand Jury found a series of circumstances and failures contributed to Tilson’s death, there was no evidence found to prove that anyone intentionally withheld water from Tilson, causing his death.
Tilson died of dehydration on March 12, 2018 after being arrested on March 3, 2018 for disorderly conduct that he was experiencing due to mental illness. Attorney Mawuli Davis, who is representing Tilson’s family, said Tilson died an agonizing death in his cell after pressing a call button for help that didn’t work. Davis and the family released a video from a whistler blower showing Tilson’s final moments before his death.
“The family is devastated that no one will be held criminally liable for Shali’s death. However, the struggle for Justice for Shali is far from over,” said Davis.
The Grand Jury said that Tilson “either failed or was unable to consume adequate water or hydration.” However, based on evidence presented to the Grand Jury, a series of circumstances, acts, omissions and failures came together to create the atmosphere for Tilson’s death.” Because Tilson was in one of the jail’s two padded cells, he did not have access to a fountain as did other detainees.
“In practice, the provision of water to detainees in the padded cells was either upon request of the detainee or at the haphazard discretion of the individual jailers assigned the specific task of providing water.
Additionally, because the risk was not contemplated, jailers never received training regarding the dangers of dehydration and the symptoms associated with the condition…”
Rockdale Sheriff Eric Levett said through his spokesman, Deputy Lee Thomas, that he was still fully reviewing the Grand Jury’s report. Thomas said that the Sheriff’s Office had already addressed several corrections at the jail that the Grand Jury recommended to improve operations.
The Grand Jury cited several systems in the jail that must be repaired, recommending that random and independent audits be conducted on those systems. The Grand Jury also recommended that the Sheriff’s Office create a written policy regarding screening detainees exhibiting erratic behavior as well as implementing better training for medical staff and jailers including visual checks for detainees who are held on suicide watch, among other things.
Johnson said in a statement:
“The Grand Jury found that medical, mental health and jail staff, through complacency, reluctance, assumptions and lack of procedures, training, leadership and adherence to policy failed to recognize and adequately address the mental state and physical decline of Shali Tilson. In addition, the Grand Jury found that under the totality of circumstances, the administration failed to live up to its responsibility of ensuring the safety and well-being of Shali Tilson while detained and confined n its jail. This played a significant role in failing to prevent the death of Shalit Tilson. This played a significant role in failing to prevent the death of Shali Tilson.
“The Grand Jury did not find evidence that any person, criminally or intentionally, caused the death of Shali Tilson. Nor did it find evidence that any person or persons intentionally withheld water from Shali Tilson or consciously ignored signs that he was suffering from physical distress and/or dehydration.
Based on the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations, the District Attorney’s office will ensure that the forepersons of the July Grand Juries in 2020 and 2021 will be provided a copy of the Presentment to inquire into the progress and implementation of this Grand Jury’s recommendations.
The District Attorney’s Office extends its sincere appreciation to the members of the Grand Jury for their attention, dedication and objective search for truth in this case. In addition, the District Attorney’s Office joins with the Grand Jury in extending our sincerest regrets to the family of Shali Tilson and hope that the family can take some small comfort in the fact that we have endeavored, as they requested, to see their brother and son as a person. It is the hope of both the District Attorney’s Office and the Grand Jury that another family will not have to endure the loss and pain they have suffered.”
Johnson said the Special Investigative Grand Jury was comprised of 23 Rockdale citizens. Over the course of four months, the grand jury toured the Rockdale County Jail, reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, watched hours of available video recordings of Shali Tilson’s incarceration; questioned over 60 witnesses, including medical experts, former and current detention deputies, former and current inmates and medical and mental health staff.