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Deputies ‘Tortured, Then Killed’ Man At Georgia Jail On ‘Taser Tuesday,’ Attorneys Say

Antonio May, a 32 year-old father of three, died in the Fulton County Jail in September after deputies pepper-sprayed and shot him with a Taser.

Antonio May with his mother and children.Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo courtesy of the family.

In the predawn hours of Sept. 11, 2018, Antonio Devon May went to the American Cancer Society’s offices in a deserted downtown Atlanta. He threw rocks at the Williams Street building and shattered a glass window, an overnight security officer told police.

But May did not flee the scene. A police officer saw him shouting just blocks away, at the intersection of Williams Street and John Portman Boulevard.

May, a 32-year-old father of three boys from Macon, Georgia, had removed his shirt and laid down on the pavement with his arms spread out. May admitted to throwing the rocks and said he wanted to be taken to jail, according to the Atlanta Police Department’s report of the incident.

An officer detained May on suspicion of criminal trespass, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison, a maximum $1,000 fine, or both. May was then taken to a police precinct, where he complained to officers that he wasn’t feeling well. He received medical treatment at nearby Grady Memorial Hospital, where he was turned over to sheriff’s deputies and booked into to the Fulton County Jail.

Cries for help

It was a Tuesday, allegedly dubbed “Taser Tuesday” by deputies at the approximately 2,600 capacity facility in Northwest Atlanta. Some time after May was placed in a holding cell, deputies noticed that he had removed clothing and was masturbating. They demanded that he stop, but another person incarcerated at the jail said May also begged for water and banged loudly on his cell door to get the attention of deputies.

A team of six deputies entered his cell, one deputy deployed a Taser, and May then fell onto the floor, according to an investigative summary from the Fulton County Medical Examiner obtained by the Appeal. A second deputy tased May and he was also pepper-sprayed. After deputies placed May in a restraint chair, he “suddenly went unconscious” according to the Medical Examiner. In May’s autopsy, the Medical Examiner noted that he was shot with a “controlled electronic device.” May was pronounced dead on the night of Sept. 11, 2018, the same day he was arrested.

May was under the influence of methamphetamine and his death was caused by cardiac arrest due to “probable excited delirium with physical restraint use,” the Medical Examiner found.  But the medical examiner said it was unclear how the deputies’ use of Tasers and pepper spray contributed to May’s death. Seven months later, the precise manner of May’s death remains undetermined.

“Antonio May was tortured, then killed,” Michael Harper, an Atlanta attorney representing two of  May’s sons, wrote in an emailed statement to The Appeal. “We absolutely anticipate filing a lawsuit in the coming weeks, in order to seek justice on behalf of the children of Antonio May, and to prevent another family from having to endure the pain and suffering of the preventable death of a loved one at the Fulton County Jail.”

Citing pending litigation and an ongoing investigation into May’s death, Sheriff Theodore Jackson declined The Appeal’s requests for comment. The sheriff’s department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation also did not release records about May’s death in the jail.

Relapse, then incarceration

It’s likely that Atlanta police and Fulton County jailers didn’t know that May struggled with substance abuse disorder, his family’s attorneys told The Appeal. Stun guns can be lethal when used on people like May who use drugs like cocaine or amphetamines. And they were almost certainly unaware that May’s mother, Rita Floyd, had died of cancer 10 months before his arrest.

“The irony of him going to the American Cancer Society and committing this act, it’s a little bit more than coincidental,” said Teddy Reese, an attorney representing May’s oldest son.

Reese and Harper said they think May began using drugs again because he was grieving his mother’s death. He needed treatment, not jail, so that he could be present in the lives of his sons, ages 14, 6 and 4, family members told The Appeal. Though he battled substance abuse disorder, May attended parent-teacher conferences and his sons’ sporting events, they said. Now, he will miss his sons’ proms, graduations, and other milestones, said Sheena Pettigrew, the mother of May’s oldest son.

“My son is now a teenager,” Pettigrew wrote in an email to The Appeal. “My son will not have his father to help him move into his first college dormitory. Too many of our young black males have negative vibes about law enforcement. Events like this do nothing in helping us as a society improve that relationship.”

Graylin May, Antonio May’s father, said he didn’t want anyone else’s family to fear that what happened to his son could be the fate of their sons or daughters who are incarcerated in the Fulton County Jail.

“What makes this even harder to digest is the fact that my son’s death was caused by individuals that are paid by public dollars and [who] have taken a public oath to protect and serve all citizens, not just those that they feel deserve preferential or decent treatment,” he said.

A deadly jail

Antonio May’s death was one of several reported in-custody deaths in 2018 in the Fulton County Jail. The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office did not provide an official count of deaths at the jail in 2018 to The Appeal before publication of this article. (The sheriff reported nine deaths of incarcerated persons, four suicides and four natural deaths at the jail in 2017.)

But a 2018 investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found there were approximately 50 in-custody deaths over the preceding decade in the Fulton County Jail, making it the deadliest of Georgia’s 143 county jails.

Critics have blamed the high number of deaths on the jail’s inadequate medical supervision of people with substance abuse disorders or mental disabilities. In September 2017, 31-year-old Bobby Fields was found hanging in his cell not by guards but by another person incarcerated in the  jail. Fields had been locked up only a few days on drug charges, and was one of two people to die by suicide at the jail on Sept. 17, 2017. In December 2017, Clark Colvin, a 29-year-old booked in the jail on burglary charges, died by suicide after just two days in the jail. His mother, Karen Colvin, sued the county in 2018, after it delayed turning over documents under an open records request about Clark’s stay at the jail.

Because May was preceded by dozens of other deaths in the Fulton County Jail, his case garnered widespread media attention and renewed calls for jail reform from prominent politicians. “Antonio May’s death is a tragedy. … We must recommit to transforming Georgia’s history of mass incarceration into a story of redemption [and] reintegration,” 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams tweeted just days after May’s death.

April Myrick, the grandmother and legal guardian of May’s two youngest sons, issued a warning to families with loved ones in the jail.

“Get your family members out of that jail,” Myrick wrote in an email to The Appeal. “The officers that are responsible for Antonio May’s death are still working at the Fulton County jail! I just wonder if Taser Tuesday is still going on.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that there were nine homicides at the Fulton County jail in 2017. There were nine deaths of incarcerated persons that year.