A Georgia inmate has filed a lawsuit against a former ACC Sheriff’s deputy alleging a violation of his civil rights while incarcerated in Athens.
On March 18, 2017, Travoine Gary was being escorted to an observation cell by Corporal S. Johnson after causing a disturbance in his housing unit. Johnson then struck Gary’s face and grabbed him by the mouth, seemingly without cause.
After this brief incident, Gary was placed in the observation cell, handcuffed, for over two hours. He claims that his handcuffs were on too tight, causing his left hand to swell and turn “numb and purple.” While medical personnel did evaluate Gary at this time, he claims he did not receive treatment for the pain and swelling until nine days later.
Corporal Johnson asserts qualified immunity as a defense to these charges, saying he was cleared of wrongdoing in an internal investigation by the ACC Sheriff’s Office. Captain Jessica Goings, who performed the investigation, found that Gary had threatened to spit upon Johnson as he was being taken to the observation cell. Gary “routinely” threatened to spit upon deputies and was a disciplinary problem more generally, Goings said in the report.
Therefore, Goings found that Johnson’s use of force was “appropriate.”
Likewise, she found that leaving him handcuffed for over two hours was “not too unreasonable” given the circumstances, noting that medical staff did check on him.
As part of the investigation, Johnson described Gary’s “history of defiant facility behavior” including the behavioral issue for which he was placed in the observation cell on March 18, 2017. In this incident happening just prior to events described above, Johnson says Gary “poured food from his dinner tray” on another deputy, something which Gary disputes. Gary insists that while he did drop his tray, it was accidental, related to a sudden surge of anger.
Gary was later transferred out of the ACC jail to Hays State Prison where he is currently serving a 30-year sentence for aggravated assault and related crimes. In fact, this is something he feels is relevant to his defiant and angry behavior. As he explained to Goings in the investigation, the events unfolding above happened around the same time he found out he would be spending the next 30 years in state prison.
Gary’s lawsuit was filed nearly two years after the event in question and is still ongoing. It originally cited Sheriff Ira Edwards and the ACC jail as defendants, but these charges were dismissed by Judge C. Ashley Royal.
The charge of excessive force by Corporal Johnson is still proceeding in US District Court. According to Judge Charles Weigle, Gary must show that Johnson used force that was “objectively unreasonable … from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene,” if he’s to win the suit and the compensation he’s seeking.
In the three years since the incident in question, Corporal Johnson has moved on from the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office and is no longer employed by the agency.