SCSO investigation determines excessive force was used in jail

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

A Spalding County Jail use of force incident that was reviewed by a variety of supervisors and investigators with disparate findings ultimately resulted in disciplinary action being taken against two Spalding County Sheriff’s Office employees.

The incident occurred Nov. 21, 2015, and involved a female prisoner – Emily Gasaway – and initially, two female jail employees, Jamie Cain and Ivanna Washington.

According to a statement written by Capt. Ron Buchanan, the jail administrator, the matter was first reviewed by himself and Capt. Tony Ranieri, who heads the SCSO Criminal Investigation Division, the morning after the use of force incident.

In this incident, inmate Gasaway was being moved from Booking HC 5 to ISO 1 due to kicking continuously on the cell door in booking. Inmate Gasaway was placed into ISO 1 by Deputy J. Cain and Deputy I. Washington. As the door was being closed, Inmate Gasaway attempted to exit ISO 1 by striking Deputy Cain in the face with her hand. Inmate Gasaway was taken to the ground inside of ISO 1. Inmate Gasaway continued to resist. In reviewing the tape, I did not observe any excessive use of force. I did note that the incident may have been de-escalated,” Buchanan wrote. “On Nov. 23, 2015, at 1045 a.m., I met with Capt. Tony Ranieri in my office. Capt. Tony Ranieri also reviewed the tape and was in agreement with my conclusion.”

At that time, Buchanan reported the incident would be reviewed with Cain and Washington and they would be counseled, including ways the incident could have been de-escalated.

Official SCSO documents indicate there was no additional action in this matter until Dec. 1, when The GRIP submitted an Open Records request for information into the incident.

On Dec. 2, Ranieri forwarded a packet of information pertaining to the Nov. 22 incident to Sgt. Vicki Massegale-Clift, of the Criminal Investigation Division, who was instructed to launch an Internal Affairs investigation into the use of force incident.

As part of her investigation, Massengale-Clift interviewed a number of SCSO employees who were present at the time of the use of force or who became involved later.

Despite Buchanan’s assertion that the video indicated excessive force was not used, several of those who witnessed the incident reported differently.

Deputy Robert French, who along with Cain and Washington escorted Gasaway to the isolation cell, was the first person interviewed. He confirmed Gasaway had reached out the door that was approximately three-fourths closed and struck Cain.

He advised the incident should have ended there and the door should have been shut. French advised that Deputy Cain said, ‘Oh, no, she didn’t!” and Deputy Washington responded, ‘Oh, hell, yes, she did!” Massengale-Clift said. “Deputy French stated that he tried to shut the door, but couldn’t because Deputy Washington grabbed the door, and she and Deputy Cain went into the cell after the inmate. Deputy French stated that the inmate was backed up against the cell wall and he was yelling for Deputies Cain and Washington to come out. French stated ‘they beat the hell out of that girl,’ and ‘that’s not the way we do things.’”

French went on to say that as additional deputies arrived, they were unaware of what had previously occurred.

All they knew was there was a struggle between the deputies and the inmate. French added, ‘It’s a wonder they didn’t hurt that girl…I’m from the streets… and that was a beat down,” Massengale-Clift wrote. “He stated that Deputies Cain and Washington were telling him to taser Ms. Gasaway, but he refused and told them, ‘She’s not resisting.’ He later in the inter­view advised he told them, ‘I should tase y’all. Stop!’”

French also advised that he later spoke with Sgt. Renee Dupree-Law and stated she should watch the video from the incident because it went “bad quickly.”

Deputy French stated that he and Sgt. Law watched the of the incident together. Sgt. Law told him that she didn’t realize the incident was that bad; she just thought he was upset,” the report reads.

Massengale-Clift documented Law told French that the incident was wrong and that someone was going to be in trouble over this.

French stated that later during the same shift, he was summoned by Law to watch the video again, the second time with Deputies Cain, Washington, Rutledge and Shamlin.

He (French) advised he was the only white person there and the comment was made (unknown by whom, possibly by Rutledge) that the reason why he didn’t use his taser on the girl was because she was white,” Massengale-Clift stated. “Deputy French stated since this, he’s ‘caught flack’ from his co-workers over this because some of them are trying to make it a ‘black and white thing.’”

Massengale-Clift’s investigation also involved reviewing the video recordings of the incident, which she described in detail.

Her description of the video, which shows inmate Emily Banks Gasaway being escorted from a holding cell in booking by Deputy Cain, Deputy Washington and Deputy Robert French, details the actions of each.

Massengale-Clift reported Gasaway appeared to be verbally assertive as she was being escorted to the isolation cell, but that she moved without any physical escort. Upon arrival at the isolation cell, Gasaway placed her back against the wall and crossed her arms across her chest, requiring Washington and Cain to place their hands on the prisoner’s arms and physically place her in the cell.

Ms. Gasaway attempts to exit the cell, but Deputies Cain and Washington prevent her by pushing her with their hands back into the cell,” Massengale-Clift reported.

As the cell door was closing, the video shows Gasaway reaching out and striking one of the deputies in the face.

As the door to the isolation cell is being closed by Deputy French, Ms. Gasaway quickly reaches outside the door and strikes Deputy Cain in the face. Ms. Gasaway then takes a couple of steps backward inside the cell away from the door,” the Internal Affairs report states.

Massengale-Clift’s investigation determined it was at this time that Cain and Washington used excessive/unnecessary force against Gasaway.

Deputies Cain and Washington then stop the cell door from closing, pull open the door and enter the cell. Deputy Cain attempts to grasp Ms. Gasaway’s left arm. Deputy Washington is seen pushing Ms. Gasaway’s chest and then making con­tact with Ms. Gasaway’s face with her hand. Deputy Cain appears to be trying to facilitate an arm lock to guide Ms. Gasaway toward the bench inside the cell. At the same time, Deputy Washington grasps Ms. Gasaway by the back of the neck and appears to be trying to pull Ms. Gasaway in the opposite direction, possibly trying to place her on the cell floor,” Massengale-Clift wrote.

Soon after, Washington, who has a rear-facing hold on Gasaway, pulls her backward into the corner of the cell as Cain crouches over them. As this scene is playing out, French can be seen standing in the cell doorway with his taser unholstered.

The report goes on to state that as numerous additional deputies arrive at the isolation cell, the video shows Cain leaning down and pulling Gasaway by her arms, causing her to slide on her back across the cell floor.

As Gasaway stands and leans with her back against the cell wall with her arms folded across her chest, French, Cain and Washington can be seen motioning for the prisoner to move to the bench.

As more deputies continue to respond to the isolation cell, Gasawacanbe seen gesturing in a questioning manner before Washington and Cain forcibly place her on the bench.

As Gasaway sits up, a third employee – Deputy Tonika Rutledge – became involved as she “pushes past deputies standing outside the cell door and enters the cell,” where she “grabs Ms. Gasaway by her head and forces her to lie back on the bench.”

A future scene demonstrates Deputy Victor Shamlin assisting in restraining Gasaway’s legs as Rutledge controls her upper body while Deputy Justin Zambujo further restrains the prisoner with handcuffs.

Once Ms. Gasaway is handcuffed, Deputies Rutledge and Zambujo step away and Deputy Shamlin maintains control over Ms. Gasaway, who is no longer resistant. Ms. Gasaway is not lying still and face down on the bench as Deputy Shamlin keeps one hand on the handcuffs. The deputies converse amongst themselves for approximately 45 seconds. Deputy Shamlin now releases his control hold of Ms. Gasaway and she remains lying on her stomach and places each hand above her head on the bench as they are uncuffed,” the IA report states.

Gasaway is then left alone in the isolation cell.

For the second part of this story, including statements from involved deputies as well as additional witness accounts of what happened in the Spalding County Jail isolation cell, the opinion of the District Attorney’s Office and Spalding County Jail administrator’s response, please read the May 2 edition of The GRIP.

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