Target 12

Records tie suspensions, resignation to RI native's jail death

CONYERS, GA (WPRI) -- Records obtained by Target 12 indicate a 22-year-old Rhode Island native who died in a Georgia county jail earlier this year was not monitored for several hours before his death, and a deputy allegedly falsified records about conducting the required checks on him. 

According to Rockdale County Sheriff's Department internal affairs investigation memorandums, five deputies did not follow department policies leading up to the March 12 death of Shali Tilson, who died from dehydration in his cell.

Tilson had been put on suicide watch after he was arrested on misdemeanor charges, but the document indicates, "There were no suicide checks conducted" during the three hours leading up to his death, despite the policy to check suicide watch inmates every 15 minutes. 

"Deputies were not busy during the shift," the document states. 

Rockdale County Sgt. Dan Lang resigned in April after he was accused of five "code of conduct" violations, including falsifying the March 12 suicide watch logs that incorrectly stated the 15-minute check policy had been followed.

"Sgt. Lang did falsify suicide watch logs when he signed for security checks he did not perform," a sheriff's department memo said. 

Four other deputies were suspended for their respective actions before and after the Rhode Islander's death.

The "manner of death" was ruled to be "undetermined," a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) news release stated earlier this year.

Tilson's older brother Radames, who lives in Rhode Island, said his family is "outraged" by the new developments. 

"We want more than people resigning or being suspended," Tilson said. "We want them going to jail. It doesn't make any sense why these people are not in handcuffs." 

The family's attorney Mawuli Davis told Target 12 "this information should trouble any American in the country, no matter where they live."

"Someone who was clearly having a mental health crisis was clearly ignored until he died," Davis said. "This shouldn't ever happen, anywhere." 

Rockdale County Public Information Officer Yolande Moore said she could not comment on the suspensions and resignation.

"This investigation is ongoing," Moore said. "We do not have a timeline. We get updates from the district attorney every two weeks."

Tilson had been arrested for misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and obstruction of a law enforcement officer in Conyers, nine days before he died. 

According to GBI records, deputies filed six use of force reports involving Shali Tilson during his time in jail.

Davis said a toxicology report indicated there were no medications in Tilson's system, despite the 22-year-old's apparent need for medical attention. 

Radames Tilson told Target 12 his brother moved to Georgia when he was about 9-years old but moved back to Rhode Island last year for a State House internship while he was attending the Community College of Rhode Island.

His internship involved working in the Central Falls mayor's office but he returned to Georgia a short time later to help his father.

His older brother is frustrated by how long the investigation is taking.

"This could've been avoided. They used force on him six separate times," Tilson said. "The only thing he did was keep calling for help, asking for medical attention. People don't understand what this feels like."

Tilson said his family is planning to hold a candlelight vigil at the Rockdale County Jail this weekend.

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


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