Excessive force cases increasing in Georgia

Excessive force cases increasing in Georgia

March 31st, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

BY THE NUMBERS

Georgia investigations into police force used in an arrest:

Fiscal Year / Total / Shooting related

2009 / 64 / 44

2010 / 74 / 45

2011* / 82 / 59

* Through March

Source: Georgia Bureau of Investigation

A GBI investigation into an "excessive force" complaint against a Chattooga County sheriff's deputy is just one of more than 80 that the state agency has made this year - the most in the past three years.

And there still are three months to go before this fiscal year ends June 30.

Overall, the GBI has seen an increase in officers investigated for possibly using excessive force, agency spokesman John Bankhead said.

But for many agencies, it is standard procedure for the GBI to investigate when any type of force is used in an arrest, he said.

The GBI has investigated 82 cases of police use of force so far this year, compared with 74 cases in all of 2010, Bankhead said.

A request must be made by a law enforcement agency for the GBI to investigate, he said.

While most of the recent cases are related to an officer-involved shooting and are proven to be necessary to make an arrest, the GBI has arrested several officers in the last two months on accusations of aggressive behavior, he said.

"It is uncommon," he said.

One possible reason for the increase in excessive force investigations could be that law enforcement agencies want to be above-board when it comes to public perception, Bankhead said.

"People want to believe their police officers treat people fairly," said Dalton Police Chief Jason Parker. "Our use-of-force policies are pretty extensive."

Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents still are investigating whether Chattooga Deputy Andrew Plummer used too much force when arresting an unruly man last week.

According to the arrest report, it took Plummer, two other Chattooga deputies and a state trooper to subdue Frank Roper after he was accused of getting into a fight at a local food market.

Roper cut his forehead and upper lip when Plummer and a state trooper tackled him to the ground while trying to handcuff him, Plummer wrote in the report.

After Roper was on the ground, he continued kicking and screaming at Plummer until a Taser was used on him, the report stated.

After being shocked, Roper kicked Plummer in the groin and was threatened with the Taser again, the report noted.

"Tase me, I live for that [expletive]!" Roper said, according to the report.

Roper was charged with obstruction of officers, a felony, and three misdemeanors - disorderly conduct, public intoxication and driving on a suspended or revoked license, according to the report.

Investigation sought

Chattooga Sheriff John Everett said he asked the GBI to investigate the arrest to make sure Plummer followed the department's use-of-force policy.

"We don't show any partiality toward our deputy," Everett said. "We just have to make sure the proper procedures were followed."

After the arrest, someone complained about Plummer, who is on administrative leave pending the investigation, said Chattooga County Sheriff's Capt. Ken Anderson.

Once the GBI finishes its investigation, the findings will be turned over to the Chattooga district attorney's office, which will make the final decision on whether to prosecute the officer, Bankhead said.

South Georgia case

Last week, Police Chief Walter Young in the South Georgia city of Omega was arrested by the GBI on charges that he assaulted an inmate in his jail's custody. In February, seven correctional officers at Macon State Prison were arrested on charges of assaulting an inmate.

Within each law enforcement agency, authorities have their own guidelines on how to use force when a suspect is resisting arrest, but the state sets certain standards as well, authorities said.

"If someone is fighting, you can take one step of force further," said Lt. Tony Pyle with the Calhoun Police Department. "If [a suspect] grabs you and is pulling you, you're in your rights to punch him. If he pulls a knife, you can pull a gun."

But whatever the situation, every incident must be documented, said officials in several North Georgia law enforcement agencies.

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