Several former inmates of a county jail in Georgia allege in a class action lawsuit filed last year that the Gwinnett County sheriff and his"rapid response team" abused the use of restraint chairs at the jail, leaving inmates in it for hours at a time. The Gwinnett Daily Post describes what it saw of the practice, apparently used more than 200 times in the six months before the lawsuit was filed last summer:
The rapid response team is a SWAT-style group made up of highly trained deputies. Videos previously viewed by the Daily Post show members, upon being summoned, staging outside a cell in helmets, vests and masks before entering, pinning down the inmate in question and putting them in the chair. Some were shot with pepperballs prior to deputies entering the cell.
Last week, a former Georgia Department of Corrections commissioner who spent 40 years working in the system, filed a report in favor of the lawsuit's claims. Via the Post:
[Allen] Ault's thoughts included the following:
— "In my opinion, the problem is not how they conduct a takedown, but rather, the almost total indiscriminate use of the RRT that have now become standard practice in the jail."
— "Although it would be a daunting task to get the actual number of deployments of other Response Teams, I would venture to state, based upon my experience in the field and without fear of contradiction, that the Gwinnett County RRT has been deployed more often in the last thirteen years then (sic) the combined total of all other County, State and Federal facilities located in the state of Georgia."
— "Instead of the RRT being deployed as the last resort, it is being deployed as the first choice of preference by staff to handle a 'problem' inmate. Upon arrival, the RRT routinely uses force where no force is justified."
— "It was also obvious that it was being used to punish some individuals who had been 'vulgar' in either language and/or deed in 'reception' or elsewhere in the jail before being placed in a cell."
— "… way too often, in my opinion the 'takedown' and the use of the 'restraint chair' is a ruse for implementing excessive force."
The alleged misuse of law enforcement tools to hide excessive force is not unique to Georgia. A recent newspaper report in Philadelphia chronicled the apparent return of the "nickel ride," when police drive vans recklessly to inflict injury on detainee passengers. As Alonzo Harris, the crooked cop in Training Day played by Denzel Washington, observed after a use of excessive force, "it's not what you know, it's what you can prove." Police unions and deferential local governments have often helped make even that not enough.
You can watch Gwinnett County's rapid response team in action here: