Town hall to mark the one-year anniversary of Kevil Wingo’s death

photo of Cobb Superior Court building from the front with a blue sky with clouds in the background

A coalition of Cobb community groups hosted a third town hall at Glover Park about the numerous deaths in the Cobb County Adult Detention Center Wednesday evening, about a year after the death of Kevil Wingo, a Black man incarcerated at the detention center.

The event was originally scheduled on the one-year mark after his death, but was delayed due to weather.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, Austell Community Task Force, Cobb South Christian Leadership Conference, Cobb Coalition for Public Safety, Families Against Racism, Moms of Black Boys United Georgia Chapter and the NAACP Cobb County Branch hosted the town hall.

Kevil Wingo, a 36-year-old Black man, was detained at the jail without being found guilty or non-guilty when he was denied medical care after complaining about a ruptured ulcer.

A video obtained by 11 Alive News that has gone viral shows Wingo vomiting, holding his stomach, collapsing multiple times and begging WellStar medical staff to give him treatment.

Instead, the charge nurse had Wingo moved to a padded isolation cell, accusing him of drug-seeking.

While in the cell, Wingo was stripped naked, had an anti-suicide smock placed on him and was left to die.

Wingo died Sept. 29, 2019.

Wednesday’s town hall was originally scheduled for last Tuesday, Sept. 29, the day Wingo died, but was postponed due to weather.

Hosts of the town hall said that 50 people have died in the detention center since Sheriff Neil Warren became Cobb’s sheriff.

At the town hall, Dr. Ben Williams of the Cobb SCLC said that the campaign to bring attention to the deaths and poor treatment of people detained at Cobb’s detention center began in December of last year.

Williams said local activists and affected families have called upon District Attorney Joyette Holmes to investigate the deaths in the jail.

“The district attorney is the arbiter in [the criminal justice] system,” Williams said. “We’ve called upon her to solicit her participation to use her office to get involved and investigate the wrongs that have taken place in the Cobb County Detention Center. We’ve also reached out to the county sheriff and we have not heard one thing from him.”

Williams pointed out that those detained are still awaiting their court dates.

The family and friends of Wingo held signs that said “Justice for Kevil Wingo” in the background as the lawyer for Wingo’s family, Timothy Gardner, spoke.

“[WellStar staff] dismissed [Wingo’s] complaint, they dismissed his cries for help and the pain that he was experiencing,” Gardner said. “They then put him in a cell and they let him sit in that cell for the entire evening for over seven and a half hours. Throughout that night, he cried to the nurses and begged them to go to the hospital, he begged them for help, begged them to look at him.”

Gardner said WellStar staff refused to help Wingo because they did not care. Gardner also explained staff finally removed Wingo from the infirmary but not to help. Instead, they took him to a padded cell because the infirmary nurse said Wingo was being disruptive.

“The commander in the jail and one of his sergeants and a deputy then took him to that padded cell, stripped him of his clothes,” Gardner said. “He was unable to walk and was essentially lifeless at that time.”

About 10 minutes after being put in the cell, Wingo stopped moving and eventually died.

“Mr. Wingo’s life could have been saved had someone at that detention center just cared a little bit about him that day,” Gardner said.

Gardner said Wingo’s ulcer could have been repaired and that it is about a 30-minute medical procedure.

Instead of calling and telling Wingo’s family the full story of how his death came to happen, the jail called hours after Wingo died, without providing a cause of death, Gardner said. Wingo’s family was left to figure out what happened to him.

Furthermore, the sheriff’s office would not be transparent with the family and made it difficult to retrieve videos and documents about Wingo’s case. The sheriff’s office would also not meet with the family.

Gardner said he does not believe the sheriff’s office shared everything they possibly could have about Wingo’s death. Gardner also said Warren opened up two “sham investigations” into Wingo’s death as concerns were raised.

“One was a criminal investigation that they closed in February finding no criminal activity despite the obvious criminal activity associated with Mr. Wingo’s death,” Gardner said. “The second was the internal affairs investigation that they closed finding no violations of policies and procedures despite clear violations of their policies and procedures on the day that Mr. Wingo died. Those investigations are not real.”

Gardner said he and Wingo’s family prepared a letter to DA Holmes asking her to investigate Wingo’s death because a crime was committed against Wingo. Gardner said the nurses and sheriff’s deputies were criminally negligent and should be held accountable for Wingo’s death.

The district attorney met with Gardner and one of Wingo’s family members, where she insinuated that something would be done about Wingo’s death, Gardner said.

The DA was not specific on what would be done, which Gardner found strange as people have a right to know what the DA is investigating.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation then opened an investigation into Wingo’s death, but Gardner said the GBI did not look into his death in the way he and Wingo’s family wanted them to.

It then came to light that the GBI was doing an administrative review on whether Warren’s investigation was procedurally appropriate, as opposed to a criminal investigation.

“Well that’s not what we asked for,” Gardner said. “And that’s not what we want today. We want an actual criminal investigation into the people responsible for Mr. Wingo’s death and we’re entitled to that.

The DA never asked the GBI for a criminal investigation into Wingo’s death, Gardner said.

After pressing the DA about the criminal investigation, the DA sent the Wingo family’s grievances to the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Georgia.

The DA asked the US Attorney to not only look into Wingo’s death but every death that has occurred in Cobb County, Gardner said.

Gardner wanted to know what direction the DA gave the US Attorney about investigating the deaths but found out there was never any specific requests in writing seeking to investigate Wingo’s death.

Gardner said he and Wingo’s family met with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the FBI was not clear on what they were to look into. Furthermore, since meeting with the FBI twice, nothing has happened.

Gardner said DA Homes basically passed up Wingo’s death.

The US Attorney’s jurisdiction is limited and that they can only look into federal crimes and civil rights claims but they cannot look into murder or manslaughter, Gardner said.

Additionally, the DA asked the state Attorney General’s office to follow the direction of the US Attorney. Wingo’s family and lawyer have heard nothing from the AG office, Gardner said.

“This family should not have to jump over hurdle after hurdle after hurdle after hurdle to get justice for their family member and for themselves,” Gardner said. “No one would want that.”

Gardner said transparency is needed from the sheriff and the DA.

“These people are being detained,” Gardner said. “They have not been found guilty of a crime, they are waiting their day in court. You can’t just ignore them and blow them off because they’ve had some encounter with law enforcement. A lot of the people detained at the detention center are found to be not guilty.”

Gardner said Warren cannot act like he is a sovereign power and only communicate when he feels like it.

“If you’re going to put politics over policy,” Gardner said. “Then you’re the wrong person for that job.”

Gardner said the DA was also putting politics over policy and that her job is a conflict of interest in the case. Come election day, Gardner hopes for a new DA.

“None of us should believe that we’re so big and we’re so powerful that we can’t be Mr. Wingo,” Gardner said.

Wingo’s daughter, sister, son, brother, aunt, grandmother and friends were at the rally.

Tiffany Wingo, Wingo’s sister, also read off a statement Wednesday evening.

“I love my brother,” Tiffany Wingo said. “He was a great brother, father and friend. Justice has many definitions. Justice for today means accountability and responsibility — life. We are here today to seek justice for the 50 individuals that died at the hands of Cobb County Adult Detention Center.”

After Tiffany Wingo spoke, leaders from the co-hosting groups read off all 50 names of the people who died while detained at the Cobb jail.

The majority of people who died in the jail were Black men. The two most recent deaths in the jail — those of two women in July and August this year — were mentioned also.

Sally Riddle of the Cobb Smart Justice Coalition asked the audience to email the sheriff and Nathan Wade, who is one of the lawyers Warren hired to investigate the jail.

Riddle said Warren has a lengthy record of not being transparent and had to be court-ordered this past spring to provide information on the death of Reginald Wilson, another person who died while detained at the jail. Wilson’s family is suing Warren for wrongful death.

Wilson received inadequate medical attention for his bipolar disorder and allegedly died of dehydration in the midst of a bipolar episode, Riddle said.

Warren is denying open records requests about Wilson’s death, claiming it is an ongoing investigation, Riddle said.

“Nathan Wade is also the friend of Cobb Chief Deputy Sonya Allen,” Riddle said. “So how legitimate of an investigation do you think this is going to be?”

Riddle asked the crowd to email Warren and to call Wade and tell them it is inappropriate to block open records requests under the guise of an open investigation.

“Ask Sheriff Warren to publicly state why he is not shown up during this election cycle at any of the nonpartisan forums held for candidates this election year,” Riddle said. “Why won’t he face us citizens and answer our questions?”

Riddle also said Wade being hired by Warren represents a conflict of interest, as Wade represented Warren earlier this year before the Cobb Board of Elections and Registration.

When contacted for a story recently the office of Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes told the Courier they would have no further comment on the investigation into the death of Kevil Wingo.

The Courier reached out to the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office for comment, and they have not responded as of the deadline for this article.

Arielle Robinson is an undergrad at Kennesaw State University. She is the president of the university’s Society of Professional Journalists and an editor at the KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books and collecting books and records.