(ATLANTA) — LaShawn Thompson was neither the first nor the last person to die in the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia, last year.
But when the circumstances of his death were revealed — he was found “eaten alive by insects and bedbugs” in a filthy cell, according to his family — people outside of Fulton County began to take notice.
The revelations about Thompson’s death in April of this year, which an autopsy report said was caused by “dehydration, malnutrition, severe body insect infestation and untreated decompensated schizophrenia,” prompted the resignation of multiple members of the jail’s executive staff. Last month, the Department of Justice announced that it had launched a sweeping civil investigation into the conditions at the facility.
“The recent allegations of filthy housing teeming with insects, rampant violence resulting in death and injuries, and officers using excessive force are cause for grave concern and warrant a thorough investigation,” said Ryan Buchanan, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
Now the infamous jail will be in the spotlight once again, when former President Donald Trump and the 18 others charged in District Attorney Fani Willis’ election interference probe are expected to surrender themselves at the facility for processing this week.
The processing of the former president and others is also likely to underscore what critics have called a two-tiered system of justice for white-collar defendants.
Known locally by its street location, “Rice Street,” the Fulton County Jail has suffered from overcrowding, inmate deaths, excessive force from officers, structural issues, outbreaks of lice and scabies, and malnourishment among inmates, according to the DOJ and multiple nonprofit watchdog groups that have issued reports on the facility.
A public records request conducted by the Southern Center for Human Rights found that during a September 2022 outbreak, 100 percent of inmates in one unit suffered from lice, scabies, or both. Among those affected, 90% were also found to be significantly malnourished.
“The fact that people held in the custody of Fulton County are so malnourished and ill that they are experiencing muscle wasting commonly seen in people with late-stage cancers is horrifying,” said SCHR executive director Terrica Ganzy.
When Trump arrives at the jail for processing, he is expected to spend no more than a few hours inside the facility. In contrast, many defendants spend weeks in the facility awaiting their release on bond or their trial date.
Some have died there.
Christopher Smith, 34, died inside the jail earlier this month after waiting nearly four years for his trial to start. Another inmate in a mental health unit was found dead in October with his wrists and ankles tied, according to Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB.
Others have died while incarcerated because they couldn’t afford bail.
This past Thursday, Alexander Hawkins, 66, was pronounced dead after being found unresponsive in a medical unit cell while awaiting trial. He was being held on a $5,000 bond for a shoplifting charge.
Last year 15 inmates died inside Fulton County Jail; this year, six have died.
According to a 2022 report from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fulton County Jail housed 515 people who remained unindicted for over 90 days, 242 who were only charged with misdemeanors, and 293 who could not pay bail.
‘We got mugshots ready for you’
The 19 defendants in the election interference case — which include Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows and his one-time personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — will likely encounter a straightforward fingerprinting and mugshot process, according to former Georgia prosecutor Chris Timmons.
“Unless somebody tells me differently, we are following our normal practices, and so [it] doesn’t matter your status, we got mugshots ready for you,” Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said earlier this month about the planned processing.
The 19 defendants are then likely to be released on their signatures, known as an “own bond,” meaning they will likely not have to put down money or property given their relatively low flight risk, Timmons said.
However, for many defendants awaiting arraignment at Rice Street, the process is vastly different.
Booking at the jail normally includes surrendering property and undergoing a medical screening before entering the main jail to await pretrial release, according to the jail’s website.
Timmons said that the time to complete that process varies. One of Timmons’ white-collar clients, due to an issue with his warrant, once spent four days completing the process before securing his bond, Timmons said.
Trump’s lawyers are expected to meet with Fulton County officials this week to negotiate the former president’s surrender package before Trump turns himself in, sources have told ABC News.
Like the other 18 defendants, Trump is then expected to be processed at the jail by this Friday — assuming he does not negotiate an alternate surrender location.
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