Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren must release records detailing his office’s investigations into the deaths of two detention center inmates, according to an order issued Wednesday by Cobb Superior Court Judge Gregory Poole.
The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by 11Alive, a television news station covering metro Atlanta.
11Alive requested the records as part of an ongoing investigation into deaths at the detention center, which have bedeviled the sheriff over the past year. During Warren’s tenure, at least 49 people have died while in custody of the sheriff’s office, including six in 2019. Two more have died this year.
The sheriff’s office argued the records in question, which detail the deaths of inmates Reginald Wilson and Bradley Emory, are exempt from Georgia’s open records law due to a pending investigation.
In June, amid widespread protests over the treatment of Black Americans by law enforcement, Warren said he had asked a third party to review five years’ worth of complaints alleging discriminatory practice, use of force, deadly force or neglect at the sheriff’s office.
But 11Alive attorney Derek Bauer said the review, which is being conducted by local attorney Nathan Wade, did not qualify as an investigation and was being wrongly used to justify the withholding of records after the station’s Aug. 17 story detailing the death of another detention center inmate, Kevil Wingo. That investigation, along with advocacy by the Wingo family’s attorney, culminated in Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes asking the federal government this month to investigate deaths at the detention center.
The case is not closed, however. In his order, Judge Poole said he had issued the temporary order on the grounds of public interest, the likelihood that the plaintiffs would prevail at a final hearing and the fact that the “threat of injury to the (plaintiffs) outweighs the threat of harm to the defendants.”
Judge Poole scheduled a final hearing for Oct. 27, at which he will determine “whether an investigation into criminal or unlawful activity is ongoing with respect to the deaths of Wilson and Emory.”