United States Senator Jon Ossoff has been leading a bipartisan groundbreaking investigation for close to 12 months into the deaths of nearly 1,000 American citizens not accounted for in America’s jails and prisons. During this investigation, the legal team at the Claiborne Firm and the families they represent were on hand to testify about the loved ones they lost in the gears of a broken justice system, and the failure of the Department of Justice to monitor states to ensure deaths are properly reported.
Through their testimony, these heartbroken families underscored the deep injustice of losing a loved one in jail. These are not people who have been convicted of any crime, simply those who were accused and detained awaiting their next court date. Their deaths should be investigated, or at the very least acknowledged by the system which allowed them to happen.
As part of her testimony, Belinda L. Maley played for the gathered senators audio from the last phone call she had with her son. In the call, Matthew Loflin tells his mother that he is in immense pain. Terrified of his surroundings and knowing that he won’t receive the treatment he needs for a preexisting heart condition, he predicts in the call that he will die in jail. His prediction on that call proved tragically prescient.
Vanessa Fano was also able to share her stories with the investigative committee, stories of the tragic loss of her brother Jonathan. Arrested in the throes of a psychotic breakdown, he was pulled off the streets of Baton Rouge half-naked and barely aware of his surroundings. He should have been taken to a facility that could have given him the medical treatment he needed. Instead, he was taken to the infamous Baton Rouge jail, considered among the deadliest in the country. A suicide attempt followed, one which should have resulted in immediate mental health care intervention, but instead was punished with 92 days in a row in solitary confinement for breaking the jail’s rule against “self-mutilation.”
There are many “should haves” and “could haves” in Jonathan’s story. The final one came when the jail’s healthcare provider should have acted on Jonathan’s note that the “walls are closing in.” Instead, Jonathan took his own life.
Attorneys William R. Claiborne and David J. Utter were proud to stand with their clients, shoulder to shoulder as they spoke their truth to the highest levels of power. In shining a light on the atrocities taking place every day in our jails and prisons, we don’t just fight for Matthew Loflin and Jonathan Fano. We fight for everyone, to fix a failing system so no one else needs to tell these stories again.