By Jamie Gardner
A peaceful protest was held beginning at 10:00 a.m. at the Appling County Courthouse on Saturday, September 19. Pastor Bryan Holmes was the opening speaker at the event and he told the approximate 200 in attendance that the protest was being held to seek justice for Kelsey Rayner.
As previously reported by The News-Banner, federal court records state that on July 26, 2017, 42-year-old Kelsey Rayner died in Appling County’s Segregation Jail Cell #4 at 9:57 p.m. Also according to the records, he had been arrested ten days earlier for theft and operating a business without a license. The Rayner family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit in 2019 against the Appling County Sheriff’s Department and the medical group that serves prisoners, both of which have denied any allegation of wrongdoing. The family claims that Rayner did not receive proper medical care while in the jail.
Alfred Abramson, NAACP Appling Branch President, reported that the local branch of the NAACP put the protest together. He stated that he did not understand why this man was even in jail to start with for selling fruit.
Activist Kimberly Smith told the audience that Kelsey Rayner should be alive today and said that investigation into his death needed to be reopened. She stated that she had watched video of the jail cell on the day Rayner died and said he was begging for help but help did not come.
Telly Rayner, brother of Kelsey Rayner, told the audience that his brother’s death was senseless and that his brother was in jail on trumped-up charges. He said that his brother died of sepsis and accused officials of letting his brother sit in jail for days without doing anything for him.
“If we don’t seek justice for Kelsey, then this could be your child, your child, your child,”
said Telly pointing to the audience. “Somebody is going to give an account for this pain. Mark Melton needs to man up. Jackie Johnson needs to be removed. My family is not stopping until this jailhouse is reformed. Who will be the next victim? If your dog is sick, you will pick it up and take it to the vet, but they let my brother lay there in agony.”
Gerald Griggs, Vice President of NAACP Atlanta Branch, told the audience that he is getting used to coming to south Georgia. “We are done dying,” said Griggs. “The law matters and we demand the same thing, justice under the law.” Griggs continued by saying that the Georgia NAACP stands with the Rayner family and is demanding justice and that the case be reopened. “We want all involved investigated,” said Griggs. He encouraged attendees to register to vote by October 5 and then vote on November 3.
Following these speeches, the protestors then marched from the courthouse down Highway 341 (West Parker Street) and resumed the protest at the Appling County Jail. A host of state and local law enforcement, emergency response personnel and local city and county public works employees closed off side streets along West Parker Street to allow the protestors to march.
Once at the jail, participants were asked to sit five minutes on the ground in response to Kelsey Rayner lying five hours on the floor in the jail until he died.
There were numerous other speakers at the jail including representatives of Liberty Road Online, Rep. Jeff Jones of Brunswick, Kelsey Rayner’s family members and his pastor and many others. Most of the speakers asked the audience to register to vote and to make changes with regard to certain elected officials.
“We have a choice to make,” said Rep. Jones. “If you don’t vote then all of this is for nothing.”
The protestors then marched back to the courthouse to conclude the protest.