Mother sues to learn how her son died at Ful­ton jail

Law­suit: Sher­iff’s of­fice has re­peat­edly re­fused re­quest for records.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - METRO - By Bill Rankin brankin@ajc.com

The Ful­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice is fac­ing an Open Records Act law­suit filed on be­half of a woman who wants to know how her son died at the county jail nearly 10 months ago.

The suit, filed this week by The Mer­chant Law Firm, says the county has re­fused re­quests first filed in Jan­uary for records ex­plain­ing how 29-year-old Clark Colvin of Sandy Springs died in the jail on Dec. 29, 2017.

“She’s been dev­as­tated by this,” Ma­ri­etta lawyer John Mer­chant said of his client, Karen Colvin. “It’s hard enough to lose your son, but it’s even harder to lose your son and get no ex­pla­na­tion how he died.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ful­ton jail records, Clark Colvin was ar­rested on

bur­glary charges by Sandy Springs po­lice on Dec. 27, 2017. He died two days later at the jail.

A fam­ily obit­u­ary posted shortly af­ter his death de­scribed Colvin as a de­voted son and said he had “tremen­dous tal­ent as a mu­si­cian, artist, gar­dener, jew­elry de­signer, writer.”

The fam­ily was told that Colvin died of an ap­par­ent sui­cide due to lig­a­ture stran­gu­la­tion, Mer­chant said. But when an Open Records Act re­quest for records was first sub­mit­ted in Jan­uary, the county said it could not re­lease any doc­u­ments be­cause of an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the law­suit said.

In Au­gust, the county dis­closed that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was no longer pend­ing and that a cost es­ti­mate would be drawn up for the records, which would be re­leased in two weeks, the suit said. But the county re­versed course the fol­low­ing month, say­ing once again the in­ves­ti­ga­tion had not been con­cluded. The county said it was with­hold­ing the records un­der a “pros­e­cu­to­rial ex­cep­tion,” in­di­cat­ing there is an on­go­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The sher­iff ’s of­fice op­er­ates the jail where Colvin died, so Mer­chant asked the county on Oct. 1 whether any mem­bers of the sher­iff ’s of­fice was charged or un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the case. In re­sponse, Steven Rosen­berg, su­per­vis­ing at­tor­ney for the county’s Open Records of­fi­cer, would not say whether that was the case. He re­sponded: “The Sher­iff ’s Of­fice in­di­cates this is still an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

In an email sent to The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion on Fri­day, Rosen­berg said: “The County At­tor­ney’s Of­fice does not gen­er­ally com­ment on pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion and will not do so here.”

Karen Colvin has waited pa­tiently for an ex­pla­na­tion about her son’s death but is frus­trated it’s tak­ing so long, Mer­chant said.

“She has a fun­da­men­tal be­lief they’re go­ing to re­lease the records shortly so she can get some an­swers,” Mer­chant said. “But as of now, we don’t know the cir­cum­stances by which Clark was housed at the jail or the cir­cum­stances how he was found. They haven’t told us any­thing about that.”

County of­fi­cials have re­fused to re­lease in­for­ma­tion on Colvin’s death nearly a year ago.

Clark Colvin died at the Ful­ton County jail in De­cem­ber 2017.

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