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Federal officials investigate 2010 Hall jail incident

Inmate involved in scuffle vowed not to sue, but lawyer now is reviewing options

POSTED: January 14, 2012 11:51 p.m.

A man who once promised not to sue the Hall County Sheriff's Office for what the sheriff's own investigators called an unnecessary use of force may have changed his mind.

Mautious Wise, who was punched by a Hall County jailer while his hands were bound behind his back, is out of jail. He has a new attorney who says Wise still has not gotten the justice he deserves.

Federal authorities also are investigating whether or not that is the case.

At the time he agreed not to sue anyone in the sheriff's office, Wise was in Hall County Superior Court facing two felony charges for a riot at the Hall County Jail.

Before the riot, Wise wasn't in the jail for a local crime. He and his brother, Devonta, were boarded in Hall by Fulton County.

On Dec. 22, 2010, Hall jailers decided to isolate the older brother, Devonta, whom they said was unruly.

The younger Wise, upset that his brother had been placed on lockdown, began yelling at jailers and kicking his cell door in protest, according to official records.

At least one other inmate became involved, and a physical confrontation erupted between Mautious Wise and jailer Dustin Charlton, the records state.

It was jail officials, not inmates, who were found to be culpable for the events that followed.

After the unruly inmates were handcuffed, Charlton punched Mautious Wise as jail cameras recorded the incident.

The cameras also captured the jail's highest ranking officer, Capt. Mark Bandy, move his foot across the heads of Mautious Wise and two other inmates as they lay handcuffed, face down on the ground.

A report from an internal investigation into the incident described Bandy's action as a "tap" meant to show the inmates their behavior would not be tolerated.

The investigation also determined it shouldn't have happened.

Charlton was suspended five days after internal investigators determined that punching the handcuffed Wise was an unnecessary use of force, and that he and Bandy had behaved in a way unbecoming a law enforcement official.

Bandy was suspended one day.

For his role, Mautious Wise was charged with felony obstruction of an officer and for causing a riot in a penal institution. He was transferred to a Dawson County jail, and was released from custody late last year.

Devonta Wise has since been transferred to Ware State Prison in Waycross to serve out his Fulton County sentence.

In the last month, the Wise brothers retained attorney Winston Denmark, who says he is still considering what legal options they have.

"A lot depends on what the sheriff and the county would like to do, because we certainly don't want to file a lawsuit," Denmark told The Times. "However, Mr. Wise and the other young men involved in that incident — who were the victims in that incident — certainly deserve and demand justice."

Three months ago, Mautious Wise made a written promise not to sue Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic or any of his employees. He signed the agreement at the request of Cronic, said Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh.

In exchange, the county did not prosecute the obstruction charge.

Cronic said such trades — a dropped charge for a promise not to sue — are "not unusual."

But Darragh said asking a former inmate not to sue is not common, either.

"It's not very regular," said Darragh. "It happens on rare occasions, but it does happen. ... It was certainly appropriate in this case."

When he handed down a sentence to Mautious Wise, Judge Jason Deal credited the 20-year-old for time he had already served behind bars.

He freed Wise and banished him from Hall and Dawson counties.

"You keep getting in trouble here," the judge said, according to court transcripts. "You need to be somewhere else."

His case still lingers, however.

Cronic confirmed Friday that federal investigators are reviewing his officers' actions.

The Wise brothers, too, have been contacted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office about the events at the Hall jail in 2010, Denmark said.

The Department of Justice is charged with reviewing all complaints of law enforcement misconduct.

Spokesmen for the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department all declined to comment on or confirm an inquiry into the incidents at the Hall jail.

Cronic said the Justice Department has been in contact with members of the Sheriff's Office.

"We have supported their inquiry and ... any additional information they might need and (we are in) complete cooperation with the inquiry of what the officers did," Cronic said.

Charlton could not be reached for comment Friday.

Bandy, when contacted for comment on the federal inquiry, told The Times, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Denmark, who is the chief litigator for the Jonesboro-based firm Fincher Denmark & Williams, usually represents local governments.

According to his website, Denmark is a former member of the DeKalb County Attorney's office, and has represented the DeKalb police and sheriff's office in cases of "detainees alleging undue force."

But Denmark said he has chosen to represent the Wise brothers in this instance, because what happened to them in Hall County "screamed out for justice," he said.

Cronic maintains that the sheriff's office has appropriately punished its officers for their indiscretions. Any federal inquiry is not aimed at the department's top brass, he said, but only at individuals.

"The officers that were involved in that incident were operating outside of policy and, of course, we took action against the officers," Cronic said. "There's a difference in looking into an individual officer's actions versus something that is departmentalized or institutionalized. It's not the same."

Staff writer Patrick Stoker contributed to this report.

 



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