WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A series of surveillance video clips recorded in a Georgia jail and released Wednesday show the final moments of the life of a 22-year-old Rhode Island native who died in a cell from dehydration last year.
Shali Tilson, who grew up in Rhode Island and briefly returned to live in the state in 2017, died in the Rockdale County jail nine days after he was arrested for disorderly conduct in March 2018.
Tilson’s older sister Marisol, of West Warwick, said she watched one of the videos but added it was “too painful” to watch the others.
“I have refused to watch them because my anxiety from this situation is so bad,” she said. “[Our attorney] said in his 25 years as an attorney, he’s never seen such a horrible case of abuse.”
Tilson’s family filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the Rockdale County Sheriff, three deputies and the county itself.
Tilson is naked in all four videos that were recorded by a prison camera the day he died, with one showing him pushing the call button several times, banging on his cell door and trying to climb the wall of the cell.
Two clips show Tilson apparently lifeless on the floor, with one capturing the moment jail personnel opened the door to find his body.
The Tilsons’ attorney, Mawuli Davis, said the videos demonstrate how Tilson was ignored even though he was under suicide watch protocol.
“The videos capture Mr. Tilson’s desperate pleas for help and show him repeatedly pressing a call button,” Davis said.
The call button “did not work,” according to the lawsuit, which also alleges deputies “falsified their watch logs.”
Davis said the sheriff’s department policy required Tilson to be checked every 15 minutes because he was on suicide watch.
Marisol Tilson and Davis both said they’re frustrated no one has been terminated or charged in the case, even though it’s been 18 months since the death.
“When you see someone who’s been in there for days and days and days, you can see the pain of being thirsty and needing help and just being ignored,” Tilson said. “It’s been over a year. We shouldn’t have to work this hard for something that should be done. It’s supposed to be justice for all.”
A grand jury is reviewing the case.
Attorney Jason Waymire, who represents the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Department, chose not to comment on the particulars of the pending lawsuit.
“My clients have all filed motions to dismiss the federal lawsuit, and those motions remain pending,” Waymire said.
The Tilsons are seeking a jury trial and an unspecified amount of damages in their lawsuit.