Mother sues to learn how her son died at jail

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, in Georgia, 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 more than 10 months ago.

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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 County 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.

An obituary posted by his family 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 that 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 member 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 said, “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.”

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