Family members of a Georgia state inmate are looking for answers after photos, showing their loved one badly beaten, made it onto Facebook before, they say, guards at the facility even knew the teen had been injured.
NBC News reports the family of 18-year-old Cortez Berry believe the teen was assaulted at Al Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, Georgia, by other inmates, in what they say was likely a gang-related attack.
Berry’s aunt, Shavonda Wright, said she first learned of the alleged attack after disturbing photos of her nephew appeared on Facebook. The pictures, which appear to have been taken with an inmate’s cellphone, show Berry with a swollen eye kneeling on the ground with two other inmates standing behind him. One of the inmates appears to be holding a leash which is wrapped around Berry’s neck.
Wright said relatives made numerous phone calls to the prison upon seeing the photos but no one answered the phone. She said she decided to drive to the prison, but no one would let her in.
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"I rang the buzzer, nobody came," Wright told NBC. "So then I called and I said you have to go check on my nephew. I said there is something wrong with him because we have seen disturbing photos."
Wright said she was finally able to see her nephew the next day and he still had a swollen and bloodshot eye. Berry, who just turned 18, told his aunt he was beaten before his birthday because he refused to join a gang known as the Gangster Disciples or GD Nation.
"They said bro, you might as well go ahead and join the GD, because you're about to turn 18," Berry said, according to his aunt.
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Berry said a number of inmates jumped him when he refused to join the gang.
“Ten people jumped on him and just kept beating him and they choked him to sleep,” Wright told WRDW News. “Pretty much they left him there for dead.”
Berry’s mother, Demetria Harris, said it took guards more than six hours to learn about the attack.
"He didn't get checked on until 9:45 at night. It happened at 3:15 and he didn't get checked on until 9:45," Harris told WDRW News.
The caption on the Facebook post that caught the family’s attention read, "WEN YHU DISRESPECT DA NATION...IT BRINGZ NUTHIN BUT PAIN & SUFFERINGG..”
The Georgia Department of Corrections confirmed the teen in the photo is Berry, and said the incident is under investigation. Inmates are not permitted to have cellphones in the prison.
Berry has since been transferred to another facility but that provides little comfort for his family.
Harris told WDRW she wants those responsible for the attack to be held accountable.
"I want justice for him. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get it for him, because at the end of the day, he don't deserve this. No one deserves this,” she said.
Berry originally entered the state’s correctional system at the age of 14 for assault, robbery and theft. He violated his probation in November 2013, and when he turned 17 last year, he was taken to the Forsyth facility. He is now being held at Smith State Prison in southeast Georgia.
"I'm afraid for him," Harris told NBC. "Because it's been all over social media, because the world has seen it. So if they have cellphones in that prison, they have seen it. I'm afraid they might kill him.”