JONESBORO — A Butts County businessman has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Victor Hill.
The lawsuit alleges excessive force in violation of the 14th Amendment’s due process clause and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit requests attorney’s fees, unspecified damages and punitive damages.
The lawsuit stems from the April 27 arrest of Glenn Howell on the charge of one count of making harassing phone calls.
The charge came after Hill got involved in a dispute between Howell, who owns a landscaping business in Butts County, and Lt. Josh Guthrie, a member of the CCSO and a Butts County resident.
Howell claimed Guthrie owed him money for a nearly completed landscaping job. According to the lawsuit, when Howell told Guthrie he intended to take him to court over the bill, Hill contacted Howell via his personal cell phone on April 23.
During the call, Hill allegedly threatened to have Howell arrested. Howell said he didn’t believe it was Hill and made several attempts to FaceTime the caller. Contact was established, according to the lawsuit, but Hill refused to remove his mask to prove it was him. He also allegedly refused to show proof of identity such as a license or law enforcement badge.
Additional attempts using FaceTime to garner proof of identity went unanswered. The lawsuit states Howell received two more texts from Hill’s cell phone the night of April 23. He responded back again trying to confirm the caller’s identity.
The following morning on April 24, an arrest warrant was taken out against Howell for harassing communications. Additional text messages came from Hill’s cell phone informing Howell about the arrest warrant and telling him to “turn yourself in,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, Hill sent a “heavily armed Fugitive Squad” to several locations in Butts County to search for Howell over a two-day period.
Howell’s attorney Lee Sexton said Hill failed to notify the Butts County Sheriff’s Office. Sexton is representing Howell on the charge of making harassing phone calls.
Sexton said when Butts County Sheriff Gary Long learned about the Fugitive Squad they were told to leave Butts County. Sexton also said it was Long who contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the incidents.
On June 10, the FBI confirmed “court-authorized law enforcement activity” had taken place at the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office. No other information was provided by the FBI as to what they were doing or why they were there.
HOWELL TURNS HIMSELF IN
Following the cell phone texts, Howell contacted Sexton and made arrangements to post bond. Howell was accompanied by Joanna Hobgood, an attorney with Lee Sexton & Associates law firm, to turn himself in on April 27.
Sexton said the whole process should have taken about 10 minutes to complete. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, Howell was placed in a holding cell where Hill and members of his tactical team “berated and taunted him.” Howell was then strapped into a restraint chair and placed into a suicide cell for six hours, Sexton said.
“Despite being fully compliant and exhibiting no behavior which would justify the use of restraints whatsoever, Howell’s wrist restraints were clinched so tight that both of his hands went numb and he was left with small wounds on both wrists,” according to the suit.
After six hours, Howell was released from the chair and placed in a booking cell where he was ordered to strip naked and put on a paper suicide gown. The lawsuit claims that Howell was then moved to a suicide cell with five other men. He remained there until 1 p.m. on April 28. Howell was released on the night of April 28 after posting bond.
The lawsuit claims Hill’s actions and Howell’s treatment were for the “purpose of punishment.”
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I have never seen this sort of thing going on in a jail,” Sexton said. “We’re going to stop it.”
Sexton said Howell isn’t the only detainee to receive such treatment at the jail. He said his office has been receiving nonstop calls from others who have been arrested and detained in the Clayton County jail claiming a wide scope of mistreatment.
Sexton said he anticipates more lawsuits will be filed against the CCSO in the future.
“People are lining up,” he said. “This has been going on a long time.”