Mother of inmate who died of dehydration in Georgia jail: "My son's not resting in peace"

Families of Georgia inmates who died speak out

Twenty-two-year-old Shali Tilson died of dehydration at the Rockdale County jail in March 2018. Less than three months later, another inmate died at the Atlanta-area jail. Now, an attorney for both families is claiming deputies at the jail were negligent, and says the county sheriff does not have control over the deputies, some of whom have been linked to alleged crimes themselves.

Tynesha Tilson and Vladimir Joseph say Shali had a known history of mental illness. The family's lawyer says deputies used force on him at least six times while in jail. Shali's family is filing a lawsuit and calling on the Justice Department to investigate what they say is a troubling pattern of misconduct.

"I know my son's not resting in peace," Tynesha Tilson said.  "I can't even think of the words to describe what I'm feeling ... they sat there and watched him die a slow, horrible, cruel death."

Shali was arrested last March for disorderly conduct after allegedly beating on a door to an apartment where he used to live. He was then taken to Rockdale County jail outside Atlanta. Body camera footage shows Shali speaking erratically as police restrain him.

A lawsuit filed by his family says he was schizophrenic, in the "midst of a medical crisis" at the time of the arrest and "required immediate medical attention" but was instead placed in solitary confinement. It also alleges deputies neglected their duties, falsified their watch logs and on the day Shali died he "pressed the emergency call button in his cell. It did not work."

"He was literally crying out for help and no one listened," Tilson family lawyer Mawuli Davis said. "The failure of human beings not treating him like a human being. They had video surveillance inside of his cell 24 hours a day … They were required to go in every 15 minutes and check on him because they had placed him on suicide watch."

Davis said they did not check on him. According to the lawsuit, Shali died from dehydration less than two weeks after his arrest. "He had to go at least two to three days with an inadequate amount of water. Two to three days," Davis said. 

Jamie Henry's family says she was found dead in her cell at Rockdale County jail less than three months after Shali Tilson died. Henry had been arrested for violating probation. Davis, who is also representing Henry's family, says the jail failed to treat the 40-year-old mother of one for symptoms of withdrawal and says she died from complications related to cocaine and morphine. 
Glairvee Donaldson, Henry's father, wants somebody to be held responsible. Davis said the Rockdale County sheriff's office has "a longstanding and pervasive lack of control over its employees" and local news reports link certain deputies to illegal drug distribution, stalking, sexual battery and illegal firearms.

"There's clearly something going on in that jail," Tynesha Tilson said. Davis is now calling on the Justice Department to investigate the deaths. 

"If there isn't justice for Shali, if there isn't justice for Jamie Henry. How can we know that people will be safe?" Davis said. 

CBS News reached out to the Rockdale County sheriff's office for comment and they referred us to a statement from last month. In that statement the sheriff's office said they will review and act on any findings once all the investigative reports are done. They said their hearts go out to the families of those affected