“They are human beings, they are someone’s son, someone’s brother,” yelled Penny Poole, president of the Gwinnett County NAACP, at a protest in front of the Gwinnett County jail.
Pool was among a chorus of others people demanding answers from officials overseeing the Gwinnett County Jail, just outside of Atlanta, after at least eight inmates died inside the jail within the last two years, the deaths stem from suicide, drug overdoses and medical emergencies, a WAGA investigation found.
“When someone is arrested in Gwinnett County, we want to make sure they can live to get to their time of adjudication,” said Poole.
At the Oct. 15 protest, several mothers of the deceased asked, how could their sons walk into the jail in handcuffs and leave in body bags.
“Nothing’s going to bring my son back,” said Kimberly Longshore, the mother of Ian Longshore. Ian Longshore was 36 when he died, while faced felony murder and armed robbery charges stemming from an Oct., 4, 2019 home invasion. Kimberly Longshore says, investigators told her charges against her son could soon be dopped.
“They found he had nothing to do with the situation, and he was going to be coming home but he had not had his court date yet,” Longshore said of her son’s case.
However, before Ian Longshore made it to court, he alongside a dying cellmate were found inside their jail cell on September 6, 2021. Longshore believes her son died from a drug overdose, which is still under investigation, after an unknown powdery substance was found inside the jail cell.
“They saw him fall to the ground, and no one ever came until it was roll call the next morning,” Longshore said as part of her remarks at the protest.
Other men profiled at the protest include Deion Strayhorn, 26, who died on April 16, 2021, from a ruptured ulcer, and Corey Bryant, who faced murder charges. He shared a jail cell with Longshore, and died in the same apparent overdose incident as his cellmate.
Sheriff Keybo Taylor said at the time, “jail staff performed life-saving measures on Longshore and Bryant while they waited for EMS to arrive,” according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.
Taylor was elected as Gwinnett County’s first African-American sheriff on Nov. 3, 2020, just prior to the string of deaths at the jail. Taylor is also facing multiple lawsuits and is the subject of a GBI investigation for extortion after allegations emerged, “he did not renew contracts for some [bail] bonding companies if they did not support his election campaign,” the Gwinnett Daily Post reported.
Kimberly Longshore has hired attorney Jabari Jones, to help her seek answers in her son’s death. Jones says, Gwinnett County Jail officials and Sheriff Taylor’s lack of transparency adds to the trauma experienced by the family. He also believes something nefarious could be at play as the investigation continues.
“No clear-cut answers as to how the drugs got into the facility, but we strongly suspect, personnel or employees had something to do with it because it’s supposed to be a secure facility and this type of thing is not supposed to be going on,” said Jones.
The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office told Atlanta Black Star in a statement, “providing the safety, security and proper medical care of our inmate resident population is a top priority, and we will continue to assist the Georgia Bureau of Investigation into the deaths of Mr. Strayhorn, Mr. Bryant, and Mr. Longshore.”
The statement continues with, “while we cannot share additional details or information about these active and open investigations, we continue to ask for the public’s support and cooperation.”
During the protest, while not answering direct questions from family members of the deceased, an unidentified Gwinnett County Sheriff’s deputy surprised attendees when he took the podium to assure concerned loved ones a thorough investigation is underway.
“I want to extend my condolences to the family members and loved ones,” the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s deputy said at the protest.
The Gwinnett County jail handles between 35,000 and 37,000 people each year and can house up to 26,00 inmates. In September 2022, Black people made up the majority of Gwinnett County inmate population with 1,138 admissions, white people had 700 admissions, 317 were Latino admissions, 57 admissions were of Native-American descent and 33 admissions were of Asian descent.
Jail staffing was previously cited by former Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Deputy Nina Anderson, who spoke out amid the rising deaths. Atlanta Black Star sought additional answers on if staffing is a problem and contributes to the number of deaths within the jail, but our questions have not been answered yet.
“We want people to be transparent, we want to give our sheriff, Keybo Taylor, an opportunity to talk to these families and that was not done,” said Poole.
It has been more than a year since Longshore last heard her son’s voice and she hopes she gets answers for his death so she can begin some healing and closure.
“Just getting justice for him and getting some answers and someone finally talking to us about what happened and seeing that things like this doesn’t happen again to other inmates that are in there,” said Kimberly Longshore.
Longshore and her attorney insist a lawsuit may be the only way to achieve the justice they are looking for if law enforcement officials do not produce something soon with their investigation.
“We’re still within the statute of limitations and we still reserve the right to file a lawsuit, so all options are on the table, and we are definitely strongly considering that and that seems like the only way to get some real answers,” said Jones.