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Sheriff Accused of Blocking Investigation Into Georgia Jail Detainee Death

by Jo Ellen Nott

After an otherwise healthy 32-year-old succumbed to testicular cancer at Georgia’s Clayton County Jail in January 2023, the Director of the county Medical Examiner’s Office accused Sheriff Levon Allen of withholding documents needed in the death investigation.

“When you don’t get all sides of the story or you don’t get all the information, it’s really hard to come up with a final conclusion of what happened,” said Bryan Byars. “It completely shuts us down from being able to come to a very well-rounded conclusion.”

It took three subpoenas before Sheriff Allen finally turned over the documents to Byars in March 2023. The report Byars’ office then released blamed the death of detainee Alan Willison on testicular cancer complicated by medical neglect. 

Sheriff Allen’s predecessor, former Sheriff Victor Hill, was convicted in October 2022 of strapping pre-trial detainees in restraint chairs as punishment, in violation of their civil rights. Allen, who is Hill’s godson and handpicked successor,was sworn in as interim sheriff in December 2022 before winning an April 2023 runoff election to serve a full term. [See: PLN Apr. 2023, p.61.]

Willison was arrested for third-degree forgery in October 2022, a charge that carries a one-to-five-year sentence had it ever gone to trial. Instead Willison essentially received a death sentence. It’s not that he didn’t try to save his own life, repeatedly begging for medical help starting in November 2022, two months before his death.

When he first complained of severe pain and swelling in one of his testicles, staff with the jail’s privately contracted medical provider, CorrectHealth, gave him only over-the-counter analgesic to manage his pain. On November 23, 2022, Willison wrote to them: “NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL, I HAVE MAJOR PAIN AND SOMETHING WRONG WITH PRIVATE PARTS.”  That got him a test in early December 2022 showing indications of cancer. But it was another six weeks before Willison was seen by a urologist, who officially confirmed he had testicular cancer. Willison died a week later on January 26, 2023.

After that first message, Willison sent 11 more to CorrectHealth staff. He wrote that his left testicle was the size of a “couple golf balls,” and the pain kept him from sleeping. Byar’s investigation into Willison’s death showed he was given only “Tylenol-type medication” to manage what Willison called “excruciating pain every day.”  

Byars also found that “the unhygienic living conditions at the jail, as well as malnourishment and physical abuse Willison suffered while incarcerated had contributed to his death.” The investigation further discovered that during Willison’s incarceration he was assaulted by staff and detainees. In November 2022, Willison reported to medical staff that he had been attacked twice within one hour. He took blows to the face, head, abdomen, back and groin, causing him to black out during the first attack. 

In his last message to CorrectHealth staff on January 17, 2023, Willison wrote: “I need to go to the emergency room. I have sharp pain on my right side and stomach and I can’t take a full breath. I’m having a hard time with walking.” The urologist saw him two days later, and a week after that Willison was dead.  

Georgia-based CorrectHealth is paid almost $1 million every month for its services at the jail – nearly 60% of its $20 million total estimated annual revenue. The company has been the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging neglect of incarcerated patients.

Willison’s death is especially tragic given that Johns Hopkins Medicine reports “the cure rate” for testis cancer “is excellent (greater than 95 percent for all men with testis cancer).”

Additional sources:  Atlanta News First, The Appeal, Clayton Crescent, Hopkins Medicine, Zippia

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