SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia sheriff’s deputy was fired Monday and charged with a felony after an investigation found she used pepper spray to punish a jail inmate who spit in her face while his hands and feet were in restraints, the sheriff said.
Sgt. Charlesetta Hawkins was arrested on a charge of cruelty to an inmate less than a month after Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher won election to the office. Wilcher promised during his campaign to rid the county jail of excessive force by deputies following the high-profile death of a detainee last year.
“I’m not going to tolerate an inmate being abused and I’m not going to tolerate my officers being abused by an inmate,” Wilcher said Monday.
Jonathan Mahone, jailed on aggravate assault charges, was strapped into a restraint chair in an open area of a cell block April 18 after he broke a fire sprinkler, flooding his and other inmates’ cells, the sheriff said.
Video from a cell block security camera shows Hawkins, a deputy for about 17 years, bringing a nurse to check the inmate’s restraints when Mahone spits in the deputy’s face.
“Go get me a can of spray,” Hawkins says immediately.
The video shows the inmate and deputy arguing for several minutes.
“You can’t spray me,” says Mahone, who laughs during the exchanges.
“I’m getting ready to show you I can,” Hawkins replies. “…You will never make that mistake again.”
About four minutes after she was spit upon, Hawkins is seen on the video walking toward Mahone with a spray can in her hand. She sprays him twice in the face at close range.
The video shows Mahone duck his head after being sprayed, but he never cries out in pain.
“You think I’m going to scream?” the inmate says. “Am I screaming?”
About 15 minutes after Mahone gets sprayed, the video shows Hawkins return and wipe his face with a towel.
The sheriff said authorities plan to charge Mahone with assault for spitting on the deputy. But he said Hawkins’ use of pepper spray was unjustified because the inmate was immobilized.
“She lost her cool,” Wilcher said. “… My understanding is she thought she’d done nothing wrong.”
Hawkins was released from jail Monday without being required to post bond. Court records did not list an attorney for her. A message left at a phone number listed for Hawkins was not immediately returned.
The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office has been under close scrutiny since the January 2015 death of a jail detainee. Mathew Ajibade, 21, was found dead in a restraint chair hours after a violent brawl with deputies. One deputy shocked Ajibade four times with a Taser while he was restrained.
Eight deputies were fired following Ajibade’s death and two of them stood trial on criminal charges. A medical examiner couldn’t say exactly what killed Ajibade, and a jury acquitted both deputies of involuntary manslaughter. Former jailer Jason Kenny was ultimately sentenced to a month in jail for cruelty to an inmate. His colleague, Maxine Evans, was sentenced to probation for faking jail records and perjury.
Wilcher, a former jail administrator, won a special election March 29 to replace Sheriff Al St. Lawrence, who died from cancer last November.