WTOC Investigates: Wrongful death lawsuit filed after inmate dies at Appling Co. Jail

Kelsey Rayner
Kelsey Rayner(WTOC)
Updated: Aug. 27, 2020 at 5:00 PM EDT
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APPLING COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - The disturbing video, WTOC obtained from the GBI, shows an Appling County inmate laying on the floor of his jail cell for almost five hours, getting no medical attention before dying. The family of Kelsey Rayner says his death in 2017 could have been prevented.

His widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2019.

“One thing about it bro, we will get justice for our brother,” Telly Rayner said to his brother Anthony.

Telly and Anthony Rayner want justice for their youngest brother - a father of four with a good sense of humor, and someone they said you could always depend on.

“Peaceful, loving man,” Telly shared. “He loved to play the drums, and he will preach God’s word.”

Arrest records showed Rayner had a troubled past, in and out of jail for months. Appling County Sheriff’s Office reports showed Rayner was arrested in June 2017 for operating without a business license and theft of service.

Rayner was locked up at the Appling County Jail, where the GBI reports, he complained to the jail's head nurse about chest pains and was taken to the ER on June 29, 2017 for tests, then released back to the sheriff's office. The GBI report does not go into detail on that ER visit.

Two days later, Rayner bonds out, but according to a civil lawsuit filed by Rayner’s wife in 2019, the bond company revoked their bond at the request of Appling County Sheriff’s Office.

According to reports from the sheriff’s office, Rayner was re-arrested on July 15, 2017 on two misdemeanor charges - harassing phone calls and disorderly conduct.

"They were misdemeanor chump charges that you lock a man up for and let him die," said Telly

WTOC filed an open records request and received video from the GBI's investigation. It shows the inside of Rayner's cell, 11 days after his re-arrest when he was found dead on the floor.

Family members said they believe his death could have been prevented if the jail's staff gave Rayner medical attention.

The coroner's report shows Rayner died due to sepsis, a deadly infection caused by a ruptured colon.

The GBI's investigation shows that Rayner complained of back and stomach pains on July 20, 2017. Nurse Christi Turner ordered a lab for Rayner’s liver function to be done on July 22, 2017.

In Turner’s interview with the GBI, she said the jail’s doctor was at the jail, a day before Rayner died, but did not see Rayner because his lab was never done.

Rayner died on July 26, 2017 just before 10 p.m.

"Shame on you for letting this man lay there on the floor and die and you watch him die," Telly said.

The GBI interviewed several jail staff, including two jailers who did daily checks on Rayner, leading up to his death.

“We check every 30 minutes mainly to make sure the inmates is, you know, doing what they should be doing,” said Cpl. Ernestina Merced, in her interview with the GBI.

Medical reports showed Rayner had been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"When you schizophrenic, you know how they behave, I took it as if that's behavior of a schizophrenic," said Merced.

According to the county’s jail policy, inmates who are mentally/emotionally disordered should receive in-person surveillance every 15 minutes. However, the jail log shows Rayner was checked on every 30 minutes - at max.

Cpl. Merced and Officer Brandon Griffis told GBI that Rayner would lay on the floor when he previously was in jail and didn't think anything of it this time around.

WTOC's Amanda Aguilar reached out to the Georgia Sheriffs Association's Jail Management division about what the policy is when it comes to giving inmates emergency medical attention.

Bill Hallsworth said if you would call 911 for your family member showing similar symptoms, then 911 should be called for an inmate.

Here is what Officer Griffis told the investigator they did: “We tried to get him in the bed and he wouldn’t get in the bed, but he’s been responsive and breathing, making...not talking, kind of making noises, not painful noises.”

GBI reports showed Cpl. Merced checked on Rayner at 9:30 p.m the night he died., saying he was on the floor and humming.

"As long as you breathing and saying something, I know you alive...not meaning you okay, but you know, you breathing," she said.

About 30 minutes after, GBI reports showed the control tower called Merced and Griffis to check on Rayner because they couldn't hear anything from his cell.

"When I walked in, I noticed...I first notified on radio to get EMS, he wasn't responsive. He wasn't breathing. Then I gave him CPR and I (inaudible) Ethan in the tower, he come down and assisted me with that," recalled Griffis.

GBI reports showed that Officer Griffis told investigators he and another jailer continued CPR until EMS arrived.

"It wasn't right and it wasn't fair," said Rayner's brother, Anthony.

Family members said, for the past three years, they believed Rayner died due to natural causes because that is what the sheriff's office told them.

According to Telly, the family received a text message on July 4 but didn’t go into detail about what it said, but said the message sparked their own independent investigation into his brother’s death.

They recently learned more details of the investigation and watched the jail cell video, and said they are now wondering why Brunswick DA Jackie Johnson did not proceed with criminal charges.

Johnson sent a letter to the GBI investigator saying, “I do not believe there is sufficient evidence to support the elements of a crime or any identifiable suspect to charge.”

Rayner’s brothers said they’re not convinced that’s true.

Telly and Anthony are calling for the resignation and arrests for those they believe are involved in Rayner's death, hoping it will prevent the same thing from happening to another inmate.

WTOC reached out to Sheriff Mark Melton and his attorney, who declined an interview due to the pending lawsuit. Trial in the lawsuit will not begin before June 30, 2021. WTOC also reached out DA Jackie Johnson, but haven’t heard back from her.

Stay with WTOC for updates as more information gets released.

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