A Columbus attorney hired to represent eight Quitman County, Ga., residents who were arrested last week in connection with what authorities called a small scale riot in the city of Georgetown has accused Sheriff Steve Newton and his deputies of employing “heavy handed tactics” on citizens to include public strip searches and racial profiling.
During a news conference Friday in Columbus, attorney Joseph Wiley addressed several issues that he and his clients believe precipitated the Aug. 27 confrontation in which an estimated 200 Quitman County residents faced-off against officers from several surrounding agencies in front of the Georgetown courthouse. Wiley specifically accused Newton, who was elected sheriff in January, of encouraging and condoning such policing methods as public strip searches and racial profiling in an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise of ridding the county of drugs.
“My office has performed an investigation in Quitman County — Georgetown and what we have discovered is that the sheriff’s office is using heavy-handed, unlawful improper police tactics,” Wiley said. “They’ve made over 250 arrests since Sheriff Newton has been elected and that’s only a six-man department. That’s an extreme amount of arrests for a small area, a small department. The police tactics being used that we have discovered are egregious, they are unlawful and that’s why you had the riot that took place last week.”
Calvin Richardson, of Quitman County, said he and his wife were driving on Highway 82 on Aug. 24 when two sheriff’s deputies pulled him over and demanded he get out of his vehicle.
“He patted me down, searched me, didn’t find anything,” Richardson said. “So then he said he was going to strip search me on the side of the road. So I said, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ He said yes he could. So he put latex gloves on, pulled me to the side, pulled all my clothes off, bent me over, used the gloves on me and then after he didn’t find anything he got up and said he was going to the courthouse and he’d be right back. When he came back from the courthouse he brought his dog.”
Richardson claims the deputy and the dog both searched his vehicle several times, however it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth attempt to locate drugs that any were found, leading Richardson to allege the officer put the contraband in his car.Denise Richardson, Calvin Richardson’s wife said she too was strip-searched in a public rest room of a nearby gas station convenience store at the hands of a female EMT who had been called to the scene.
In response to the Richardson’s accusations Newton said Friday afternoon that he did receive one complaint regarding a public strip search that had allegedly been conducted by one of his officers. The claim is being investigated internally, Newton said. If the accusation proves to be true, the sheriff said he’ll take appropriate disciplinary action.
In response to Wiley’s comments regarding the alleged habitual mistreatment of residents by sheriff’s deputies, Newton denied that his deputies are “heavy-handed” or that they use racial profiling to initiate drug investigations.Interfering with the law
“There’s a history of people interfering with deputies doing their jobs,” Newton said. “I’ve asked the community not to do that. The tactics of certain criminals is to make all these accusations in order to force us to quit enforcing the drug laws.”
The sheriff did confirm that his office has made more than 250 self-initiated and investigatory arrests since January, and the majority are drug related. “Nearly as many whites have been arrested as blacks,” the sheriff said.Newton added that when he took office in January drugs and crime were a big problem in the community. Now, the sheriff says, most residents feel safer.
“There was no law and order,” Newton said.
Wiley called Friday for Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue to declare a state of emergency in Quitman County as a short term solution what he called a “volatile situation.”