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Fulton County, GA Deputies Indicted for Taser Murder of Mentally Ill Arrestee

After a three-year investigation, the District Attorney of Fulton County Georgia has returned indictments against six present and former county jail deputies for abuse of a prisoner that ended in his death. The defendants are charged with felony murder and the lesser counts of aggravated assault, battery, and violation of oath of office in the Sept. 11, 2018, death of Antonio May. The in-custody abuse May suffered included repeated shocks from a Taser.

The 32-year-old father of three from Macon was arrested for “throwing rocks at the windows of the American Cancer Society building downtown” and taken to the Fulton County jail. According to the wrongful death lawsuit, “May died of cardiovascular collapse due to physical restraints.” Yet, that description hardly tells the story.

May had a history of mental illness and “had tested positive for amphetamines at the time of his arrest.” The family’s wrongful death complaint, filed in 2019, alleges that May “had been taken to the jail after Grady Memorial Hospital physicians diagnosed him with Substance Abuse Psychotic Disorder.” In his intake interview, “May told a medical technician with NaphCare, Inc., the jail’s medical provider, that he was suicidal.” Yet, despite May’s history and present symptoms, including amphetamine intoxication, he was not placed in the Special Medical Observation Unit at the Fulton County Jail. Nor was he given “detoxifying chemical sedation.” Instead, “the medical professionals at NaphCare, Inc. released Mr. May to the jail deputies to place Mr. May in a general holding cell.”

It wasn’t long before May’s symptoms caused him to act out. When the detainee “allegedly exposed himself while in the holding cell, six deputies from the jail’s Direct Action Response Team unit tased, beat and pepper sprayed him repeatedly,” according to the family’s complaint. Bu the abuse wasn’t over. Deputies then placed May “in a restraining chair, a spit mask on his face,” and took him to the shower for “decontamination.” That process consisted of deputies putting “a hose to May’s face to flush the remaining pepper spray.” Minutes later, “May was pronounced dead.”

In explaining May’s death eight months later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation claimed, “May had been combative with jail staff, prompting a confrontation.” This is quite possibly true but would have been due to symptoms of mental illness, which were not going to lessen with punitive measures. Subjecting May to Taser shocks and pepper-sprayed was not going to pacify a mental patient on amphetamines. Moreover, the family alleges May experienced “excruciating pain and suffering” before he expired.

The system failed Antonio May at several points. First, the medical officers failed to properly diagnose May and provide the care he needed. Second, there was the brutal and inhumane treatment at the hands of deputies who cruelly and wrongheadedly attempted to beat a mental patient into submission.

An attorney for May’s family said, “No one should have to lose their life the way that Mr. May lost his.” Reese made it clear the family is not partaking in “an anti-police moment.” What they’re pressing for is “an accountability moment” that holds “people responsible for taking a man’s life in cold blood murder.” How should law enforcement act in the face of troubled citizens acting out from the demons of mental illness? He suggests, “Treat someone like your mother, like your father. Not like the scum of the earth.” In a civilized society, we should demand nothing less.