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George Ward’s Death Investigated As Hazing Incident in Atlanta

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                               George Ward

ATLANTA – The family of a 29-year-old St. Thomas man who died during basic training to join the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office served notice that it plans to sue for “$10 million,” The Virgin Islands Free Press has learned.

George Ward’s family contends that sheriff’s deputies tried to cover up the cause of death and “keep the Ward family from knowing what really happened before he died,” the report said.

The VIFreep uncovered a video of the rigorous training in May 2013 in which the 29-year-old Ward struggled to keep up and to breathe while being berated by instructors. He appears in the video in a pink T-shirt, which some family members believe he was forced to wear to humiliate him, and instructors can be heard calling out “let’s go pinky” and “pretty boy.”

George Ward was a corrections officer in the Virgin Islands before he joined the DeKalb County Sheriff’s office as a new recruit in May 2013. He was rushed to the emergency room on his second day on the job after rigorous training for new recruits, and died the next day.

The DeKalb medical examiner blamed his death on an undiagnosed heart condition, a conclusion the office changed to undetermined after seeing the video. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation reviewed the medical examiner’s work and provided a report to District Attorney Robert James.

Sheriff Jeff Mann previously issued a public statement that the GBI confirmed Ward died because of a pre-existing condition. Mann called the training “textbook” for law enforcement.

“I have lost faith and hope that I would ever get any answers to what happened to my son,” Lorraine Fredericks, Ward’s mother, said.

The last time Fredericks saw her son alive was on a trip to Atlanta in early May 2013. Ward was living with a cousin while he prepared to move his children and fiancé to Georgia permanently.

Fredericks fussed over Ward, asking him if he was sure he wanted to leave his home in St. Thomas to be a jailer for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s office.

Ward had been a corrections officer in the Virgin Islands for several years.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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