Georgia sheriff investigates jailers shown punching detainee

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Security video from a Georgia jail shows a detainee being pushed against a wall by guards and repeated punched in the head and neck after five deputies come into the man’s cell.

An attorney for the detainee, 41-year-old Jarrett Hobbs, released the video Monday. Civil rights attorney Harry Daniels said authorities should pursue criminal charges against the sheriff’s deputies in Camden County who swarmed Hobbs, who is Black, after he was booked for traffic violations and drug possession charges Sept. 3.

“It’s undeniable that Mr. Hobbs was approached by jailers and he was assaulted, punched multiple times in the back of his head, kneed in his head and dragged out of his cell,” Daniels said. “This is a brutal beating, a brutal attack.”

Camden County Sheriff Jim Proctor’s office said in a statement Monday that the sheriff had reviewed the video with members of his command staff and ordered an internal investigation “to begin immediately.” The sheriff’s office did not release any details about the jailers involved, including their races.

Daniels questioned why nothing happened sooner. The confrontation between Hobbs and the jailers happened more than two months ago, and Hobbs was charged with fighting the deputies that same day.

A spokesman for the sheriff, Capt. Larry Bruce, declined to answer further questions, including whether the guards involved remained on duty.

Jail records show Hobbs, of Greensboro, North Carolina, was arrested Sept. 3 in coastal Camden County, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Savannah. He was initially booked on charges of speeding, driving on a suspended or revoked license and possessing an illegal drug.

The sheriff’s office released no details of what happened in Hobbs’ cell. But federal court records in North Carolina, where Hobbs was on probation for a 2014 federal criminal conviction, say guards entered Hobbs’ cell because he was repeatedly kicking his cell door and refusing orders to stop.

The video shows Hobbs alone in a cell standing by the door, then turning toward the bed and picking up two objects. His attorney said they were a piece of paper and a sandwich. A guard rushes into the cell and grabs Hobbs around the neck, trying to push him into a corner. Four others come in behind him.

As jailers try to hold Hobbs by his wrists, one of them starts punching Hobbs in the back of the head and neck. The video shows at least two other guards throwing punches. A second video from a camera outside the cell shows jailers drag Hobbs through the open door and hurl him against a wall. A deputy rapidly raises his right knee and foot a few times, though it’s unclear if he was striking Hobbs. The struggle continues until Hobbs, who is out of the camera frame, appears to be pinned on the ground. The entire confrontation lasts about a minute.

Jail records show Hobbs was charged afterward with aggravated battery, simple assault and obstruction of law enforcement officers.

There is no sound in the video released by Daniels. The attorney said he has a copy with audio, but he declined to share it.

Federal authorities looked into the charges against Hobbs in Georgia to determine whether he had violated his probation stemming from his 2014 guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, according to court records.

A judge’s order Oct. 20 said a probation officer testified that Hobbs had “punched one deputy in the face while punching another deputy in the side of the head. One deputy sustained a bruised eye and a broken hand as a result of the incident.” It also noted that Hobbs was punched in the head and that the probation officer was “unaware of the exact sequence of events.”

It’s unclear on the video recordings to what extent Hobbs fought the jailers. In most of the video Hobbs is either obscured by the guards surrounding him or is out of the frame.

His attorney, Daniels, said Hobbs would have been justified to fight back against guards attacking him unlawfully. He said the guard with the broken hand injured himself by punching a wall as he swung at Hobbs.

Court records show a federal judge in North Carolina revoked Hobbs’ probation Nov. 7 after finding he had violated the terms of his supervised release. However, the court dismissed alleged probation violations based on the struggle with jailers in Georgia. The court record doesn’t say why.

Daniels said he obtained the video after it was submitted as evidence in the federal probation case. He said Hobbs remains in custody in North Carolina.

“The physical wounds have healed the best they can,” Daniels said. “But mentally, no. He thought he was going to die.”