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Sheriff's office denies restraint chair abuse allegations

LAWRENCEVILLE — Attorneys for the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office leaders named in a class action lawsuit have filed their response, denying all accusations of abuse regarding the department’s use of restraint chairs against inmates.

In July, a group of former inmates at the Gwinnett County jail filed the federal civil lawsuit against Sheriff Butch Conway, Col. Don Pinkard and Lt. Col. Carl Sims, calling the use of restraint chairs — devices with arm, leg, shoulder and lap restraints, typically used for about four hours — excessive and unconstitutional.

Pinkard is the jail administrator. Sims is the now-former commander of the jail’s rapid response team, which, among other tasks, implements the chairs. In a Sept. 9 filing containing 25 separate defenses and addressing each paragraph of the suit, the attorney for all three defendants argued to the contrary.

“Any force used was justified because Plaintiffs initiated and exhibited violent behavior so as to be a danger to themselves and/or others,” the document said. “All applications of force were reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.”

In their suit, the unknown number of co-filing former inmates alleges that the rapid response team, or RRT, abused its power and used the restraint chairs as punishment, the latter of which directly violates the sheriff’s office’s use of force policy. Led by attorneys John Cicala and Craig Jones, they claim such actions were taken against them “in retaliation for loud, intoxicated or alleged noncompliant behavior.”

In many cases, it’s claimed that such behavior had ceased by the time the RRT implemented the restraint chair. The response filed on behalf of Conway, Pinkard and Sims argues against that and every other assertion in the suit.

“Defendants further state that any use of force and/or the application of a particular restraint technique is determined on a case by case basis as dictated by the particular conduct of the inmate,” the 31-page document said. “No inmate was subjected to unconstitutional force, and each inmate’s particular conduct that prompted a particular on-duty, on-scene supervisor (not these Defendants) to activate the RRT and then not terminate that activation of RRT will differ in each circumstance.”

“Defendants further state that they have not directed nor become aware of the use of the restraint chair for malicious, sadistic, punitive or retaliatory purposes,” the filing said in a separate section.

A total of 129 Gwinnett County inmates were placed in the chair in the first half of 2013, according to documents previously obtained by the Daily Post. The suit is open to inmates as far back as July 2011.