(Photo Credit: The Tilson Family)

Shali Tilson Case: "Absolute Case of Neglect" In Rockdale County

Found dead in cell from severe dehydration says GBI

Maria Boynton
May 14, 2018 - 8:33 pm

Rockdale County (GA) Sheriff Eric Levett was among those in the room Monday at the headquarters of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in DeKalb County. GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles says "the sheriff was invited because we were having a meeting and it's a case that the sheriff requested that we investigate."

The case is that of Shali Tilson. His family was also in that GBI room. Tilson was the 22 year old black man, who Rockdale County authorities say, was found dead in their jail. His family had last saw him alive about 10 days earlier.  Tynesha Tilson, Shali's mother, says while they were in that room Monday, Sheriff Levett "offered his condolences, but no apology."

After the meeting, family attorney Mawuli Davis started the process of filing a complaint with the Conyers Police Department of Internal Affairs. "Based on the information we received today from the GBI, we're concerned that the officers who arrested Mr. Tilson, should not have transported him to the Rockdale County jail, but should have instead, transported him to either a mental health facility or a hospital of some sort for him to be properly evaluated." Davis says they'd like for Internal Affairs to conduct an investigation and determine whether or not the policy and procedures, when it comes to arresting a suspect with a possible mental health crisis were actually followed.

The police report indicates that Tilson had been arrested on March 2, for disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. There was also an obstruction charge. The report also indicates that Tilson was being "erractic". The challenge for Tilson's family? Davis says, if he was erractic, he needed to be evaluated. Davis calls it yet another example of the criminalization of the mental health crises and "issues that I don't think we can afford, but we see so often in the African American community."

During Monday's preliminary report, the GBI shared with the family that Shali was severely dehydrated, and that that had been brought on by blood clots. 

But, Tynesha Tilson says, when she was finally allowed to see her son, almost 10  days after his arrest, it was a picture of him at the GBI morgue. "His jaw was crooked, and his head looked weird, like that wasn't the normal shape of his head." She also says that Shali's eyes were "bulging out of his head." She says there was also a bump on the side of head. "Both of his lips were swollen and there was blood on his mouth."

Shali's cremated remains were buried in Rhode Island last week. Tynesha says once the matter of her son's death is settled, she'll also return to Rhode Island. She told V103's Maria Boynton, "We don't feel safe here anymore." She also wants everyone to remember Shali. She says that he had worked for the Rhode Island State House and was going to school to be a paralegal. He had also started Urban Perspective, a black empowerment program.

What the family knows now? According to Attorney Davis, "We have been able to interview a number of witnesses who say he was physically assaulted in some way by detention officers." But that's just one part of a larger narrative says Davis. The other piece, he says, is that Tilson was placed in solitary confinement and was apparently placed on suicide watch. "There was clearly a concern that he was having a mental health crisis." But, rather than act on that, Davis says authorities put Tilson in solitary confinement, "He didn't receive any medication, he was not seen by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a medical doctor, and that he ultimately was severely dehydrated, and blood clots formed in his body, as a result of the severe dehydration which lead to his death. The family calls it "A case of absolute neglect." Attorney Davis calls it, "An excrutiating way to die. It's sad and deeply troubling that he would go in healthy, and then die of essentially complications from dehydration."

The GBI expects to have its investigation completed this week. The Tilson family wants a criminal investigation, and says they are considering filing a civil lawsuit.