Latest death in Valdosta prison: Mother wants to know: Why did my inmate son die?
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Latest death in Valdosta prison: Mother wants to know: Why did my inmate son die?

Jun 18, 2023

VALDOSTA — On Friday, Aug. 11, Sheila Grantham of Jesup talked by phone with her son, Kristopher Clayton Sweat, a 32-year-old inmate at Valdosta State Prison. He assured her he was all right, awaiting a bed in another dorm.

Sunday, Aug. 13, she got the most feared of all phone calls: official notification that her son was dead.

The Georgia Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday that Sweat died Aug. 13 but declined to provide details, citing an investigation and pending autopsy results. The Valdosta Daily Times learned of his death from his mother.

Grantham doesn’t have any more details either, and that upsets her.

When she received the phone call about her son’s death, she asked “What happened?” The answer, she said, was “We don’t know.”

Sweat’s death was the latest in a string of deaths at the prison over the last couple of months.

Sweat told her in his last phone call that he had been stabbed and was in solitary confinement following an incident involving socks, she said.

“He had a bit of a side hustle doing inmates’ laundry and someone stabbed him over getting the wrong socks,” Grantham said. He had also reported being beaten some time before the stabbing, she said.

The corrections department said in a statement Thursday there were no visible signs of trauma such as a stabbing.

Grantham said her son was in prison after being part of the drug scene and hurting someone but she didn’t want to go into details as Sweat’s 13-year-old daughter was standing beside her as a Times reporter interviewed her by telephone.

The grandmother adopted her granddaughter in 2019. Aside from his mother and daughter, Sweat had two half-sisters, a father and a stepmother.

Her son also needed medication for an illness even before he was transferred to Valdosta State Prison, Grantham said, but to her knowledge he never received it.

The last call from her son came from a cellphone inside the prison; Grantham said she believes it belonged to another inmate. She has sent repeated messages back to that phone asking for details about Sweat’s death.

“Now, myself and his father have to wait three to four months to get toxicology results back to find out why our son died,” she said.

A lawyer hired by Sweat’s father has sent numerous requests to the authorities for information on his death but has so far received nothing, Grantham said. The mother described her son as a “happy-go-lucky” sort who had gotten caught up in the demons of addiction.

“As a mother trying to mourn her son, it’s very hard not to know why these things happen,” Grantham said.

High Number of Deaths

Valdosta State Prison has seen a large number of deaths in recent years.

— In recent months, Lance Lumpkin died June 30 while Quoesent Bostwick died the next day. Both deaths are being investigated as homicides.

— Jairus Dantzler, 29, died Feb. 14. No cause of death was made available at the time. He had been serving a life sentence for rape, according to Georgia Department of Corrections files.

The Times found out about the inmate’s death and reported on it after being contacted by one of Dantzler’s family members.

— Inmate Dewey Slayton was found unresponsive on a cell floor at 3 a.m., Jan. 5, 2022, prison documents show. Staff administered first aid until EMTs arrived but Slayton was pronounced dead at the scene.

An incident report labeled his death a suicide.

— Inmate Wiley Tucker was found unresponsive in his cell at 5 a.m., Feb. 1, 2022, reports show. EMTs arrived but were unable to revive him and he was declared dead at 5:20 a.m.

His body was sent to the GBI crime lab for an autopsy; an incident report filed three days after the incident calls the death a suicide, according to prison documents.

— The death of George Buffkin on Feb. 13, 2022, appears only in a listing of deaths at Valdosta State Prison provided by the corrections department without any supporting documents. The listing gives the cause of death as “natural.”

— Hakeem Williams was “fatally assaulted” by his cellmate at 12:10 p.m., Feb. 28, 2022, corrections documents show. At 12:45 a.m., he was put in an ambulance heading to South Georgia Medical Center for treatment; he was not alert or conscious when the ambulance left the prison, records show. A search of the area where the assault occurred took place but whatever was recovered was blacked out in the report.

— Derick Joshua Ferrell died April 6, 2022, at Valdosta State Prison, according to documents provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections after The Valdosta Daily Times made an open records request in July 2022.

The nature of the medical situation was redacted in the documents. Corrections department records characterized his death as a “disruptive event.”

— Inmate Darius Lowe was found unresponsive in his cell by security staff at 1:17 a.m., April 13, 2022, records show. He was declared dead by the coroner’s office at 2:53 a.m. An incident report characterized the death as a suicide.

— Investigators believe inmate Bobby Carpenter died from injuries following a fight with another inmate Sept. 9, 2020, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections statement. The cause of death appeared to be stab wounds, Lowndes County Coroner Austin Fiveash said at the time.

— Orvonta Tillman is believed to have died June 15, 2020, as a result of injuries sustained during an altercation with another inmate. At the time, Fiveash said Tillman died of stab wounds.

— Prince Blige, 55, died Feb. 11, 2020; he was believed to have been killed in an inmate fight, according to the corrections department.

— On Sept. 5, 2019, Brodrick Seals, 28, died after being found unresponsive in his cell; authorities claimed his death was a suicide.

— Elander Johnson died July 25, 2019, as a result of injuries apparently sustained during an altercation involving another inmate in a case being investigated as a homicide, according to the corrections department.

— On May 26, 2019, guards found Astair Holmes Jr. unresponsive in his cell; prison officials claimed his death as a possible suicide.

— Inmate Simon Warren died April 14, 2019, after a suicide attempt, according to state prison officials.

— Kealy Williams, 37, died March 30, 2019, from injuries caused by a fight with another inmate, according to a corrections department statement.

— In August 2018, Joshua Roman died of injuries sustained in a fight, according to the corrections department.

— In July 2018, Herman Galeno, 31, was found unresponsive in his cell.

— In June 2018, David Cordova was found unresponsive in his cell.

— In April 2018, Joseph Pagen’s death following a fight was investigated as a homicide, according to the corrections department.

— In March 2018, Benjamin Snyder died following an inmate fight; the corrections department investigated his death as a homicide.

— On Dec. 4, 2017, inmate Jenna Mitchell died of apparent suicide. A lawsuit was filed against the state prison system claiming her death was due to deliberate “indifference” to her medical and mental health needs, according to court documents.

The corrections department settled with her family in late 2021 for $2.2 million.

Terry Richards is the senior reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times.

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