Civil Liberties

SWAT, Unrestrained

Prison abuse


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 them for hours at a time. The practice, which is said to have been used more than 200 times in the six months before the lawsuit was filed last summer, includes a SWAT-like team of law enforcement gearing up in helmets, vests, and masks, then pinning inmates to the chair and sometimes shooting them with pepper-spray projectiles.

The lawsuit received a boost earlier this year when Allen Ault, a former Georgia Department of Corrections commissioner who spent 40 years working in the system, filed a report in favor of its basic claims. "In my opinion," wrote Ault, "the problem is not how they conduct a takedown, but rather, the almost total indiscriminate use of the [rapid response team] that have now become standard practice in the jail."

Ault estimates that since the turn of the century, Gwinnett County has deployed its rapid response team more than all other county, state, and federal facilities in Georgia combined. The chair, he says, is often "a ruse for implementing excessive force."