Former inmate choked with chain sues South Georgia jail guards

Attorneys ask for Justice Department probe

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A former South Georgia jail detainee who was tied to a restraining chair and choked from behind with a chain is suing three detention officers, alleging the guards didn’t do enough to intervene.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, attorneys for Tremar Harris said the Appling County guards violated his rights by allowing former Officer William Rentz to choke him with the metal chain for about four seconds.

Surveillance footage of the January 29, 2022, incident appears to show Rentz choking Harris in the jail’s solitary confinement cell while the three guards look on. The guards “stood by and watched as Officer Rentz strangled Mr. Harris,” the filing alleges, noting they also failed to document or report the “unlawful use of force.”

The lawsuit also alleges Rentz made a racist remark during the encounter, reportedly telling Harris he was going to “put you back in the cotton field with the other boys.”

Rentz is white; Harris is Black.

Ten days later, Rentz was arrested by GBI and charged with aggravated assault, battery and violating his oath of office. He was also fired from the sheriff’s office.

Harris’ attorneys said the Baxley man had been in jail for two days after being charged with possessing drug-related objects. He was initially pulled over for driving with defective equipment.

According to the lawsuit, Harris was fastened to the restraining chair in solitary confinement when he managed to get an arm free, prompting the guards to return to the cell.

Harris’ lawyer, Harry Daniels, said his client was strapped to a chair in the padded room and did not pose a threat to himself or others. The chain used to choke Harris from behind, he said, was from an unused leg restraint. The other three officers in the room looked on but failed to intervene, Daniels wrote in the lawsuit.

“These three officers had a legal and a moral duty to protect Tremar Harris. But they did nothing,” he said. “Instead of doing their jobs stopping this unlawful, hateful and sadistic act, they chose to stand and watch as their fellow officer tortured a fellow human being.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Rentz entered Harris’ cell and used an electrified “shock shield” on the detainee “with no legitimate purpose or justification to do so.” Harris’ attorneys are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate.

Appling County is located about 90 miles southwest of Savannah. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reached out to the sheriff for comment on the lawsuit.