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Lawsuit: Death of RI man jailed for days without water ‘inexcusable’

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — More than a year after a 22-year-old Rhode Island native died in a Georgia jail cell, his older brother and the rest of his family are looking for answers and justice.

The family of Shali Tilson, who died from complications caused by dehydration, put their allegations in a five-count federal lawsuit filed against the Rockdale County Sheriff, three deputies and the county itself.

Tilson’s older brother Radames said he hopes the case will expose what his family alleges is a pattern of misconduct at the Rockdale County jail, including an inmate death about three months after Tilson died.

“My brother lost his life and people just seem to think they can sweep it under the rug,” Tilson said. “We won’t let that happen.”

Tilson said Shali left Rhode Island as a child but moved back in 2017 to go to college and work in a State House internship program.

He eventually returned to Georgia and last March was arrested for disorderly conduct. Nine days later Tilson was found dead in a jail cell, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.

An autopsy would indicate he died from dehydration.

“For a person to be dehydrated to Mr. Tilson’s state,” the lawsuit states, “they would have to be without water for at least two days.”

The lawsuit also alleges “obvious” signs Tilson was “in the midst of a psychiatric crisis” were ignored by jail personnel.

Tilson had a history of battling schizophrenia.

“No food, no water, no medical attention, and they just sat there,” Tilson said. “They walked by him and he was just screaming for help. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The family’s attorney Mawuli Davis said the deputies failed to treat Shalil “like a human being.”

“They had video surveillance of his cell 24 hours a day,” Davis said. “They could see him. They were required to go in every 15 minutes and check on him because they had placed him on suicide watch.”

Davis said there are no indications deputies followed the protocol to check on Tilson. 

The lawsuit also alleges deputies “falsified their watch logs.”

On the day he died, Tilson pressed “the emergency call button in his cell.”

“It did not work,” the lawsuit states.

The Tilsons are seeking a jury trial and an unspecified amount of damages.

“There’s no closure that will come out of this knowing that my brother will never come back,” Tilson said. “There’s no dollar amount you put on that to make us feel some type of comfort.”

Davis has asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the death.

The defense attorney for the county said he does not comment on pending litigation.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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