Lawsuit: Cobb jail guard kept job despite pattern of inmate abuse

In jailhouse footage, the guard is seen pushing the inmate to the ground, where he lies, screaming in pain, his hip broken, as staff drift in and out, attempting to pull him to his feet and at one point taunting him.

Denis Quinette of Marietta, then 60 years old, had been charged with misdemeanor shoplifting. He remained on the floor for nearly an hour before paramedics arrived with a gurney. Video of the May 28, 2015 incident was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Open Records Act.

“I’ve never experienced that kind of pain before,” Quinette recalled, sitting in his attorney’s office recently. After undergoing surgery, he struggles these days to climb stairs, and has to hire someone to mow his lawn.

Quinette is suing staff at the Cobb County Detention Center and Sheriff Neil Warren for damages, and to ensure that no one is similarly injured while in custody.

“They don’t treat people right,” said Quinette. “They treat you like a damn junkyard dog.”

Cobb County has appealed a U.S. District Court denial of it’s motion to dismiss the case. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to issue a decision in the coming months.

The guard who pushed Quinette, Dilmus Reed, was fired for using an “unreasonable and unnecessary amount of force” against Quinette, according to Reed’s personnel file. Reed had already been the subject of at least 10 prior internal affairs investigations, six of which were deemed “founded” or “sustained,” including two for inappropriate use of force.

Quinette’s attorney, Mark Begnaud, said he’s seen personnel records of dozens of law enforcement and corrections officers, and he’s never seen a record “half as bad” as Reed’s.

“I don’t understand why the Sheriff’s Office kept him on,” said Begnaud. “If this is how they’re handling all their employees, then this is a systemic problem.”

The Sheriff’s Office issued a brief statement in response to written questions, citing pending litigation.

“The safety and security of our inmates is of the utmost importance,” the statement read. “Following this incident, the inmate was seen by a nurse within minutes, was transported to the hospital and received appropriate medical care. After a thorough investigation, the involved employee was terminated.”

The lawsuit filed by Begnaud on Quinette’s behalf argues that command staff, including the Sheriff, “turned a blind eye to Reed’s repeated transgressions, creating a pattern of unchecked use of excessive force against inmates” and ensuring that Reed would ultimately cause a serious injury to an inmate.

Denis Quinette is suing staff at the Cobb County Detention Center where he sustained a broken hip after being pushed to the ground by a guard in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Denis Quinette)

icon to expand image

According to Sheriff’s Office records, in 2006 Reed was found to have used excessive force when he slammed a restrained inmate to the floor, busting the inmate’s lip, for which the inmate had to receive stitches. Reed was given an written reprimand.

In 2009, Reed grew angry with an inmate who was handcuffed to other inmates in a “chain gang” after the inmate cursed at him. Reed grabbed the inmate in a headlock and attempted to bring him to the floor, causing the entire group to be pulled back and forth in the struggle. Again, Reed received a written reprimand.

In 2014, Reed was verbally reprimanded for “unprofessional communications.” The investigation stemmed from “excessive grievances” alleging Reed threatened inmates; used demeaning and prejudicial language, including racial slurs; and sexually harassed a nurse who worked at the jail.

Just weeks before he pushed Quinette to the ground, Reed was given a suspension for allowing “segregation inmates” — including those deemed too dangerous to be kept with the general jail population — to remain outside their cells, resulting in a fight.

On the morning of May 28, 2015, Quinette was being held in the Cobb jail. His bond was set at $500, and he said he had not been able to use a phone to call his brother.

According to the video and Cobb’s internal investigation, when Reed opened the cell to place another inmate inside, Quinette tried to get his attention, saying, “excuse me.” When Reed moved to close the door, Quinette moved forward and placed a hand on the door. Reed closed the door, then swiftly reopened it and shoved Quinette with two hands, sending him to the floor.

Quinette landed on his left side and began screaming in pain. Reed made no effort to attend to him, and left him in the cell with two other inmates, who attempted to help him up.

A minute later, Reed re-entered the cell with a supervisor, Sgt. William Piepmeier, who stood over a prone Quinette and asked, “So, what’s your malfunction today?”

The two attempted to pull Quinette up as Reed insisted to the injured man that he had tried to rush him.

Over the next hour, Reed, command staff and two nurses wandered in and out of the cell. They made several attempts to move Quinette, who appeared to be in severe pain. Finally, paramedics entered with a gurney, and Quinette was taken away.

Quinette retained an attorney shortly after his release from the hospital, and filed suit in May, 2017, in the U.S. District Court’s Northern District of Georgia. As a government entity, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office is shielded from liability by sovereign immunity, so Reed and his superiors are named as defendants. They are being represented by County Attorney Deborah Dance’s office.

On Jan. 18, 2018, Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. denied the county’s motion to dismiss the case, writing that if true, the allegations laid out in the case represent a “blatant violation of the Constitution.” Furthermore, the judge wrote, it appeared that command staff “knew of the danger that Reed presented, but took no action to appropriately supervise or discipline him.”

Instead, they “provided Reed with verbal and written reprimands, and never assigned him different duties.”