Inmate, sheriff clash over conditions at Towns County jail

A former Towns County jail inmate says he wasn't given proper medical treatment and is amazed he survived COVID-19, but Sheriff Chris Clinton says the inmate applauded jailers for their help.

Donald "Ricky" Martin was released from the hospital Tuesday and is now out on "own recognizance" bond, but he claims he was denied routine medication for a serious lung disease while detained in the county.

"I thought id die in that jail," 45-year-old Martin said.

He has COPD, which is a lung disease that he says worsened because of Towns County jail conditions.

"The mold is so bad the walls sweat," he said.

"I could die in my sleep," he continued.

He says he notified Towns County jailers about his illness when deputies booked him in January on drug charges.

Martin claims he was only given medication every eight hours and it wasn’t enough.

"I begged to see a doctor... And I suffocated every night," he said.

Martin says his health deteriorated at the end of March when he caught COVID-19 while behind bars.

"I was sleeping on my knees, in a fetal position. A couple [jailers] made fun of me," he explained, "It’s the only way I can breathe," he said.

"Now they’re starting to check temperatures but it was only for guards. They never checked any inmates," he said.

Earlier this month Martin became unresponsive and medics rushed to the union general’s emergency room. That’s where he tested positive for COVID-19.

He was released both from care, and the jail—on bond--Tuesday and has now quarantined.

Martin claimes inmates are regularly denied the help they need at the detention center.

"A couple [jailers] stepped up but the majority of the time they all said the same thing: 'above my pay grade.'"

A source at the jail tells FOX 5 a nurse only works there every so often and says more medical staff is needed to help during these times.

FOX 5 reached out several times to Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton to get his side of the story.

He didn't respond directly to Martin's charges but referred us to his office's press release which states the jail follows CDC guidelines.

He did tell the Towns County Herald on Tuesday that he has communication from Martin while jail, praising the care by jailers.

A copy of the release from the sheriff's office is below:




March 13, 2020

Command staff implemented new operations in reference to Coronavirus Covid-19

  • Jail visitation suspended until further notice
  • Sanitation of jail inmate areas normally cleaned twice daily increased to three times
  • All other areas of the jail as well as the Sheriff’s Office will be kept in a high state of environmental cleanliness
  • All inmates brought to the jail will be screened for symptoms of the Covid-19 virus.
  • All jail staff will be screened for symptoms of the Covid-19 virus
  • All deliveries to the jail will be modified to restrict contact with jail staff
  • All departmental staff members instructed to maintain 6-foot buffer zone
  • All staff members instructed to use proper hygiene practices, washing hands after any contact with another person
  • All uniform patrol deputies will handle any non-emergency calls for service by phone as situations dictate i.e. general questions of an officer by the public. All emergency calls for service will be responded to immediately

March 16, 2020

Towns County Sheriff’s Office personnel attended a called meeting at the Lumpkin County Courthouse by Chief Superior Court Judge Raymond George. Judge George issued an order declaring a judicial emergency in Towns County, Georgia due to a serious health emergency due to the Covid-19 virus.

March 17, 2020

Sheriff’s Office received a memo from Enotah Circuit District Attorney’s Office as to their revised operational plans.

March 19, 2020

A Jailer called absent for shift not feeling well. The Jailer went to a nearby Health Clinic to be tested for COVID-19 and was referred to the Health Department to be screened for the Corona virus. The Jailer was advised that they were not a high priority for the test due to the fact that they had not been

exposed to a known case of the virus. The Jailer was given a work excuse and quarantined at home from March 19th thru April 2nd.

March 20, 2020

Sheriff’s Office staff tested new audio/visual “Go to meeting” software program. Staff meetings can be held via internet/cell phone, limiting physical contact between officers.

March 23, 2020

Sheriff’s Office daily operation planes updated-as to Covid-19.

  • Courthouse/Sheriff’s Office Courthouse A notice has been placed on the front door as to the closure with phone numbers for the public to call with any questions of various departments located in the courthouse. At the present time, a deputy will continue to be assigned to the courthouse for security. Limited court hearings are continuing with small numbers of participants.
  • A notice has been placed on the front door as to the closure with phone numbers for the public to call with any questions of various departments located in the courthouse. At the present time, a deputy will continue to be assigned to the courthouse for security. Limited court hearings are continuing with small numbers of participants.
  • Sheriff’s administrative offices will be closed to general public. All record requests for incident reports and accident reports can be made by calling 706-896-4444
  • Sheriff’s office administrative staff will be working off a revised work schedule to limit physical contact between staff members
  • All administrative staff are reminded to clean and disinfect their workstations upon arrival to work and again upon leaving for the day
  • All facility deliveries will continue to be restricted and added precaution: all mail and packages will be quarantined prior to opening.

April 3rd’ 2020

Patrol/Investigations staff meeting held in response to COVID-19.

  • An audio “meeting to go” with a reminder to staff that all precautions and previous operational updates were still in place.

April 13, 2020

Towns County Sheriff’s Office was notified that a male subject which was transported by a patrol officer on April 11th 2020 tested positive for COVID-19. The Deputy was notified of the exposure. The subject that was transported on April 11th 2020 advised the Deputy at that time that he was not sick nor did the Deputy observe any symptoms related to the COVID-19 virus. Due to the fact the Deputy was in close contact for an extended time, his exposure was deemed high  risk. The Deputy was not scheduled to return to work until April 24th 2020. The Deputy was tested for COVID-19 on April 19th 2020 due to symptoms developed at that time. The test results returned on April 23rd negative for the COVID-19 virus.

April 19. 2020

A jail inmate who experienced medical complications was transported to Union General Hospital where he was admitted and hospitalized at that time. During the late evening hours of April 21st , the Sheriff’s Office was notified that a COVID-19 test returned positive for the Towns County inmate. All Sheriff’s Office personnel that were tasked with providing security on him at the hospital were provided with PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) to use during their assigned shifts and reminded to practice the recommended 6 foot buffer zone.

April 21, 2020

The Sheriff’s Office, after notification of the inmate’s COVID-19 positive test, consulted with personnel from the Towns/Union County Health Department. The Health Department was notified of the inmate’s positive COVID-19 test results. Sheriff’s Office staff followed recommendations from the Health Department outlined in a statement released from the Georgia Department of Health dated April 11th 2020. Health Department personnel further advised that no COVID-19 tests will be given to Sheriff’s Office staff unless symptoms were present according to the latest information that they had received.

  • Georgia Department of Health   April 11th 2020    STATEMENT

Recommendation/Guidance: To mitigate staff shortages for critical infrastructure workers (Law Enforcement, 911 and Essential Business Workers)

“to preserve work force capacity, recent CDC Guidance now allows critical infrastructure workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 to continue to work, if they do not have any symptoms, wear a face mask at all times while working, and maintain 6 feet between their coworkers”.

*Health Department Personnel advised Sheriff’s Office staff that law enforcement officers using PPE and a 6 foot buffer zone that come in contact with a subject with active COVID-19 virus would be deemed low risk exposure unless virus symptoms become present.

April 22, 2020

The Sheriff’s Office provided  press release regarding positive COVID-19 test on county inmate along with safe guards taken to continue to protect county inmates and staff. Jail Administration and Sheriff’s Office scheduled additional cleaning and sanitizing of the county facility.

April 23, 2020

  • Towns County Jail was sanitized and cleaned by a company experienced in cleaning jails and detention centers.
  • Two Jailers with mild symptoms were tested for COVID-19. The Jailers did not require hospitalization and are awaiting tests results while quarantining at home.

April 24, 2020

  • The Towns County Sheriff’s Administrative Office, including patrol and investigations was cleaned and sanitized by personnel from County Emergency Management.
  • Three Jailers with mild symptoms were tested for COVID-19. Jailers are quarantining at home pending test results.

April 29, 2020

 Currently no one in the jail are exhibiting COVID-like symptoms. However due to more test kits becoming available and our healthcare provider’s current recommendation to allow inmates and staff to test.  Twenty-seven inmates out of thirty-one currently housed were tested after consenting to the test today.  The patrol and administrative staff are scheduled for testing on Friday May 1, 2020.   All jailor COVID-19 test results so far have returned negative, however two test results are still pending .The outside company hired re-cleaned and sanitized the high traffic areas of the jail.  Jail staff and inmates are continuing to clean the jail three or more times daily.

The health and safety of all inmates as well as our staff are of the upmost importance. The Sheriff’s Office has and will continue to take all recommended precautions and guidelines from the Health Department, GEMA and the CDC to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to the community, inmates and staff.