COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Jail officials say they were unaware that a Black Georgia inmate may have harbored racial resentment before they put him in a cell with a white man that he's accused of beating to death.
Muscogee County Sheriff Donna Tompkins tells local news outlets that her staff didn't know that Jayvon Hatchett allegedly told police that he was looking for a white man to kill after he was arrested for stabbing an employee of a Columbus auto parts store on Aug. 25. A police report listed the stabbing as an “anti-white” bias incident, but Tompkins said the sheriff's office wasn't given the report or informed of the threat.
“No one in my agency was aware when they classified him, when they put him where they put him,” Tompkins said. “No one was aware of a specific threat to any group, nor did he indicate any to our security, medical or mental health staff."
Hatchett shared a cell with white inmate Eddie Nelson Jr. from Aug. 28 through Sept. 5. A deputy reported seeing Hatchett atop Nelson in the early morning hours of Sept. 5, local news outlets report. Tompkins said that as deputies pulled Hatchett from Nelson, he said Nelson had put a hair in Hatchett’s sandwich. Nelson died of what the Muscogee County coroner ruled was blunt force trauma.
“Somebody made a decision to put these two inmates in a cell together and that never should have happened. Whoever did it had to have known,” said Craig Jones, a lawyer representing Nelson's family in a wrongful death lawsuit.
He said multiple deputies were in the courtroom during Hatchett’s preliminary hearing where officers testified Hatchett told them he stabbed the store clerk because he is white.
“You can’t tell me those officers in court didn’t go back to the jail and tell their supervisor, and their supervisor didn’t tell their supervisor,” Jones told WTVM-TV. “I think it was probably a total breakdown of communications, but this is a big enough deal that if you’re in charge of the jail, if you’re in charge of the sheriff’s department, you have to know about this.”
Tompkins said she ordered an internal investigation into what knowledge deputies had of the charges against Hatchett and how they decided to house him with Nelson. But she said sees no reason to call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Nelson was in jail for a probation violation because he had failed to register as a sex offender.
Hatchett is charged with murder in Nelson's death. The 19-year-old has pleaded not guilty, but officials say he has confessed and Tompkins notes the deputy saw what happened. Hatchett is charged with aggravated assault and possession of a weapon during a crime in the auto parts store stabbing.
Tompkins said both cellmates had seen the jail's mental health provider.