Fulton County sheriff, opponents grilled over jail conditions at candidate forum

Candidates for Fulton County sheriff faced tough questions about the crisis at the jail during a forum hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia on Tuesday night in southwest Atlanta. 

However, there weren't many clear answers. 

At one point, moderator Rohit Malhotra became frustrated with the general vagueness of many answers.  

"You got to give me something to give me something specific," Malhotra said. "Because just walking out of here, I feel like I’m just reading your website." 

Incumbent Sheriff Patrick Labat joined Democratic challengers Kirt Beasley, James "JT" Brown, Joyce Farmer, and Charles Rambo at the forum in Ali Events at Lakewood on Jonesboro Road.  

"We have we have to change the culture change, it doesn’t change overnight," Labat said, acknowledging that work is far from over. "When [the people incarcerated at Fulton] feel unsafe, they make weapons. So many gangs as we have internal to the facility, we ultimately have to continue to do the things we started." 

Labat claims that people are no longer forced to sleep on the floor because he sent them away to other facilities. 


Meanwhile, Farmer said that's a matter of the guards doing their jobs. 

"If you conduct your security rounds like you’re supposed to, it wouldn’t give the time to create anything," Farmer said.  

Labat said ultimately, the county needs a new jail, but that's at the discretion of the Fulton County Commissioners, whom he admitted he doesn't have the strongest relationship with. 

Each of the candidates acknowledged that the staffing shortage at the jail has played a massive role in the dangerous conditions.  

"You have to have staff hired and you have to make sure that they’re properly trained," said Kirt Beasley. "You have to have to have those levels of management in place." 

So far this year, at least three people have died while incarcerated in Fulton County custody. Ten people in total last year. 

"The deputies should do 30-minute rounds, and hold the supervisor accountable," said J.T. Brown.  

None of the candidates had exceptionally different ideas from their counterparts, but some wanted to dedicate more resources to make sure people aren't just languishing behind bars without a guilty conviction or upcoming trial. 

"What you need is what the sheriff to get more involved," said Charles Rambo. "Getting these judges to stop further noticing cases." 

Labat said three people in county custody have been there for more than a decade - never tried nor convicted of the crimes they were accused of.  

Early voting for the Democratic primary begins Monday, April 29.  

No Republicans or independents qualified, but Rambo suggested he may run a write-in challenge campaign in November.