Franklin County, Sheriff’s Office named in Federal civil rights suit alleging use of excessive force
On March 30, a Georgia resident filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Franklin County, Sheriff Steve Thomas and three Franklin County Sheriff’s Office deputies, alleging the “use of excessive force” and the “denial of adequate medical care,” both in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. A jury trial has been requested by both the plaintiff and the defendant. As of June 1, the date of the trial had not been set.
On May 31, 2018, a Franklin County Grand Jury indicted Kenteryon Cortez Kinsey, 27, of Alamo, on charges of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, driving on improper registration, speeding, reckless driving, and improper lane change and turn signal violation.
The charges stemmed from an April 3, 2018 incident in which Franklin County Sheriff Deputies arrested Kinsey after observing him speeding on Interstate 85 in Franklin County. It was during this arrest that Kinsey alleges officers conducted an “an unprovoked and malicious tasering” after which “no medical treatment was offered or provided to Plaintiff Kinsey,” according the complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Athens Division.
ConnectLocal spoke with Kinsey by phone, who acknowledged that he was speeding and driving “recklessly,” and that he was openly carrying a weapon, unconcealed, on his hip, but stated that when he pulled over, he offered no resistance and complied with officer instructions.
Following is Kinsey’s verbatim account of the incident, as stated to ConnectLocal on Sunday, May 31.
“I was coming from out of state (on Interstate 85) on my motorcycle and I was, well, I was giving it the gas and supposedly a police officer was on the side of the road and I guess he came from the side of the road and turned on his blue lights, but I was already driving fast and reckless and I didn’t even see him.
Further up the road, they tried to set up a little road block or something like that, and I pulled over because I finally saw the lights, so I pulled over and turned off my motorcycle and the next thing I knew, they were saying ‘freeze’ and whatnot, and so I didn't even really move because I had a gun on my hip and I wasn't going to move.
The next thing I know, an officer picks me up off of the motorcycle and slams me to the ground and I had a helmet on but he started beating my head against the ground and then next thing I know another officer pulls up and says “oh you thought you were going to get away” and tells me to put my hands behind my back. My hands were already behind my back when they were beating my head into the ground. I already knew I was fixing to go to jail or whatever, that was just the situation, so I was just complying.
So, I had my hands behind my back before he told me to put my hands behind my back, and he repeated it, and I didn't say anything, I just shrugged my shoulder and waved my elbow to identify that my hands were already behind my back. He said it two more times and I did the same thing, identifying that my hands were already behind my back and then they tased me for like 15 seconds.”
When asked if the officers warned him that they were going to use a stun gun him, Kinsey said he did not think so, but could not recall.
“I just remember them saying “put your hands behind your back” and I wiggled my elbows and the next thing I know, out of the peripheral of my eye, I saw him pull out this object, I thought it was a gun, and tase me.”
Kinsey told ConnectLocal that he had never made any motion to reach for the weapon on his hip, and that officers had removed his gun immediately, and he was no longer armed at the time the Taser was utilized.
“I had a pistol on me but they took it off me before I even hit the ground,” he said. “When the police snatched me off the motorcycle, before my body even hit the ground, the gun was off my waist and the police snatched it off. Even when they said freeze (while he was still on the motorcycle), I did not move at all.”
According to Georgia Code Title 16. Crimes and Offenses § 16-11-126, “Any person who is not prohibited by law from possessing a handgun or long gun may have or carry on his or her person a weapon or long gun on his or her property or inside his or her home, motor vehicle, or place of business without a valid weapons carry license.”
No firearm-related charges were included in the grand jury indictments against Kinsey.
Kinsey stated that, although he had been arrested in the past for minor infractions, including drug-related charges, he has never been arrested for resisting arrest, nor for any violent crime. A database search conducted by ConnectLocal revealed no Georgia State Department of Corrections incarceration record for Kinsey.
In addition to “Franklin County Sheriff Stevie Thomas” and “The County of Franklin, Georgia,” three deputies were listed as defendants in the civil rights violation suit filed by Kinsey – Deputy Brenton McCurry, Deputy Jason Roach and Deputy Nick Fowler. Kinsey said he was not sure how many officers were physically restraining him when the Taser was used, but said he thought there were up to 10 officers present on scene.
“I saw at least seven cop cars there. Were they all tackling me? I don’t know. I can’t recall but it was at least seven cop cars there, maybe ten,” he said.
Kinsey said he did not request medical attention following the incident.
“From my understanding of the police procedure they were suppose to make sure I was medically seen after they tased me,” he stated.
Although the incident occurred in April of 2018, Kinsey filed the civil rights lawsuit on March 30. Kinsey said he had told the attorney he retained to represent him in the charges against him that he wanted to pursue the civil rights suit against the FCSO, but the attorney continued to tell him he could file those charges at any time, but it was better to deal with the charges against himself, first. Kinsey said it wasn’t until he began looking for another attorney in March of this year that he was told the statute of limitations on filing the civil rights violation lawsuit would expire in early April, at which time he formally filed the lawsuit in the Athens District Court.
Following the arrest on April 3, 2018, Kinsey said he was booked into the Franklin County Jail, where he spent three days before bonding out. He said that he has been to court several times on the case since then, but every time, the case is continue and court officials “just tell me to go home.”
No future court date has been set in the state’s case against Kinsey, as is the case with a majority of cases in Georgia during the COVID-19 response.
Kinsey said he has been pulled over several times since the arrest, but has not been arrested, cited or charged with any further crimes since the April 3, 2018 arrest.
“Ive been pulled over maybe eight times (since the April 3, 2018 arrest) but got no ticket, no arrest, no nothing,” he said. “It’s kind of irritating getting pulled over and having to allow people to search my vehicle and stuff,” he said, acknowledging that it is the state’s right to do so, due to his being released on bond.
On May 4, the defendants in Kinsey’s civil rights violation lawsuit filed an official “answer” to the charges levied by Kinsey. The document states the defendants’ “first defense” as “Plaintiff’s Complaint, and each and every paragraph set forth therein, fails to state or set forth claims against Defendants upon which relief may be granted.”
The defendants further deny all of the allegations set forth in Kinsey’s lawsuit, including his narrative of the incident. Kinsey’s description of the incident included in his lawsuit matches with the statement made by Kinsey to ConnectLocal.
“Defendants deny that Plaintiff’s civil rights were violated in any manner at any time relevant hereto while Plaintiff was in Franklin County, Georgia,” the Answer filed by the attorney for the defendants states.
In an effort to obtain the FCSO accounting of the arrest and any statement regarding Kinsey’s lawsuit, ConnectLocal contacted Sheriff Thomas. After speaking by phone on several occasions with Thomas and scheduling two separate telephone interviews with him that the sheriff failed to be available for at the scheduled time, ConnectLocal, at 1:30 p.m. on June 1, submitted a GORA request to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, making the following request:
Under the Georgia Open Records Act § 50.18.70 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of all public records that pertain to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) interaction, over time, with Kenteryon Cortez Kinsey, DOB 5/31/1990.
These records include, but are not limited to:
All incident reports and narratives filed by FCSO personnel regarding the April 3, 2018 arrest of Kinsey involving, among others, Franklin County Sheriff Deputies Benton McCurry, Jason Roach and Nick Fowler.
Footage from any and all recording devices (ie bodycams, dashcams, et al) used during the pursuit, arrest and incarceration of Kinsey.
A copy of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Policy and Procedure Manual and any supplemental policy documents and guidelines regarding the use of force and/or the use of an Electronic Control Weapon (Taser).
A copy of any use-of-force report filed in regard to this incident/arrest.
Records of all deputy Electronic Control Weapon training/certification/training refresher status.
Records of regular or periodic inspection and testing of departmental Electronic Control Weapons for any and all Electronic Control Weapon(s) used in this incident.
Any warrants, charges, medical forms and booking documents, including photos, that related to the April 3 incident.
Records of any and all communication (written, email, telephone, et al) regarding the civil lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Athens Division by Kinsey against Franklin County Sheriff Stevie Thomas, Franklin County Sheriff Deputy Brenton McCurry, Franklin County Sheriff Deputy Jason Roach, Franklin County Sheriff Deputy Nick Fowler, and The County of Franklin, Georgia. Communications to include inner-departmental as well as with outside entities including, but not limited to, county manager, county commissioners, and county attorney, unless those records are specifically exempted by law.
Documentation of any prior interaction between the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and Kinsey.
The GORA request was copied to the Franklin County Attorney, Dale R. “Bubba” Samuels.
As of noon, June 7, no response has been provided by the Franklin County Sheriff’s office and several phone calls to Sheriff Frankie Thomas have not been returned.
ConnectLocal spoke with attorney Samuels on Thursday, June 3. Samuels stated that he did not handle open records requests for the sheriff’s office, but stated that he had received the GORA request from ConnectLocal when it was emailed on June 1, and had subsequently emailed Thomas offering his assistance, if requested, in fulfilling the Open Records request.
Samuels told ConnectLocal that he had received no response from Thomas.
ConnectLocal will update this story as soon as recording device footage taken during the arrest, officer narratives and incident reports and other requested records such as agency policy manuals and training records for the use of Tasers is supplied to ConnectLocal in response to the Georgia Open Records Request. Updates regarding court proceedings will also be provided.
Georgia Department of Public Safety Policy Manual
SUBJECT USE OF FORCE
POLICY NUMBER 10.01
REVISED DATE 11/14/2019
POLICY REVIEWED 11/14/2019
C. Conducted Electrical Weapons The department authorizes the use of Conducted Electrical Weapons by sworn members who have been trained and certified in their use.
1. Training Only sworn members who have successfully completed Conducted Electrical Weapons Training, including exposure, provided by the DPS Training Division are authorized to use and carry the CEW.
a. The CEW may be used when it reasonably appears that it will be an effective and objectively reasonable less-lethal response to resistance option, balancing the need to arrest or subdue the person; the likelihood of injury to the person, to innocent bystanders, or law enforcement officers; and officer safety concerns.
b. Use and carry of the CEW should be consistent with DPS policy and DPS training.
c. Deployment of the CEW against any person shall be considered a use of less-lethal physical force. The CEW is not intended to be used as an alternative to the use of deadly physical force.
d. When possible, the member should give a warning before deploying the CEW and subsequent warnings for additional cycles. The member shall only energize the subject the number of times reasonably necessary to accomplish the operational objective.
e. When applicable, an announcement should be made to other members or law enforcement officers on the scene that a CEW is going to be used.
f. The CEW should be used only for official law enforcement purposes. No member shall playfully, maliciously or intentionally misuse a CEW.
g. In determining the need for additional energy cycles, members should be aware that an energized subject may not be able to respond to commands during or immediately following exposure.
h. The device may also be used in certain circumstances in a drive stun mode.
a. This involves pressing the unit against an area of the body based on training. It is important to note that when the device is used in this manner, it is:
a) Primarily a pain compliance tool due to a lack of probe spread;
b) More likely to leave marks on the subject’s skin; and
c) Subject to the same deployment (use) guidelines and restrictions as those of the CEW in cartridge deployments.
3. The CEW should not be pointed at any person unless the member involved reasonably believes that it will be necessary to use the device.
4. Restrictions on Usage The CEW should not be used when the following circumstances are known to exist:
a. When the operator cannot, for safety or other reasons, approach the person within the device’s effective range;
b. In proximity to flammable liquids, gases, blasting materials, or any other highly combustible materials that may be ignited by use of the device, including but not limited to any person who may have been contaminated with combustible liquids;
c. When it is reasonable to believe that incapacitation of the person may result in serious injury or death (e.g. incidents listed in paragraph 7 below or where the person’s fall may result in injury or death);
d. When the person is standing on any form of elevated platform or where the person may not fall directly to the ground;
e. A subject fleeing should not be the sole justification for use of a CEW. Severity of the offense and other circumstances should be considered before the member’s use of a CEW on a fleeing subject.
f. On a handcuffed or secured prisoner, absent active aggressive behavior that cannot be reasonably dealt with in any other less intrusive fashion.
5. In less-lethal responses to resistance situations, when possible, members should avoid using CEW on:
a. Persons in wheelchairs or in control of a vehicle;
b. Pregnant women;
c. People with apparent debilitating illness or the elderly;
d. Children or those under 80 pounds, or
e. Persons with known neuromuscular disorders such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or epilepsy.
6. Probe Removal
a. CEW probes that penetrate sensitive areas of the subject’s body (i.e., neck, face, groin, and, with female subjects, the breast area) will only be removed by medical personnel.
b. All other probe removal may be performed, in accordance with training, by a member certified in the use of the CEW.
c. Members should dispose of cartridges and probes in the nearest sharps container (i.e. hospital or ambulance).
d. Photos should be taken of the affected area after probe removal. With probes that penetrate sensitive areas, photos should be taken (by members of the same gender as the subject) of the affected area prior to and after probe removal.
a. CEW cartridges shall not be carried loosely in pockets or in similar fashion for long periods of time, because static electricity may cause discharge and serious injury.
b. Post Commanders shall maintain an adequate supply of replacement cartridges in a secured area at the Post. The cartridges shall only be accessible by NCO’s assigned to the Post.
c. A log of replacement cartridges shall be maintained indicating the time and date of issuance, the trooper to whom the cartridge was issued, and the serial number of the cartridge. The log shall be maintained in the Post files for a period of three years and then destroyed locally.
8. The CEW shall be test-fired at the beginning of each work day for a standard cycle of 5 second spark test. A CEW that does not meet the testing protocol should be taken out of service until repaired. The firing log generated by the CEWs internal software will be inspected by the Troop Officer at post inspections to insure that testing is being conducted and the latest firmware update is installed.
a. Unintentional discharge of the CEW will be explained in a letter through channels to the Troop Commander. Unintentional discharges that are deemed negligent will require the member’s letter to be forwarded to the Commanding Officer’s office for possible disciplinary action.
9. Use of Force Report
a. Use of the CEW is considered a use of force and requires completion of the Incident/Use of Force Report (DPS- 1113).
b. With the exception of training, all instances of CEW usage, including unintentional discharges, shall be reported to a supervisor and documented.
10. CEWs shall be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations (i.e. Tasers shall be protected from exposure to moisture, to avoid an accidental discharge.