Bannister: Sheriff's response to arrest report ‘disappointing'

Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister on Friday ripped Sheriff Butch Conway for failing to discipline the deputies involved in the chairman’s recent arrest on a charge of driving under the influence.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Bannister said a sheriff’s deputy’s arrest report on the incident was “designed solely to embarrass me and my family.”

Bannister was later exonerated of the charge, and Conway vowed to retrain deputies and spend $200,000 in drug forfeiture funds to install cameras in all squad cars. But Bannister said he was “deeply disappointed” with the sheriff’s response.

“Rather than taking appropriate action against those who are responsible for this debacle, the sheriff plans to use hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds to buy equipment and train staff to perform tasks outside of his department’s constitutional functions,” Bannister said.

Conway declined to comment Friday, except to say, “I can only stand by my original apology to Mr. Bannister and his family.”

Bannister’s statement is the latest development in a political confrontation that has smoldered since the chairman’s June 28 DUI arrest.

Bannister was drinking at a Lilburn-area restaurant when a witness called an off-duty sheriff’s deputy to report the chairman was drinking and was driving his county-issued car. A sheriff’s deputy staked out the restaurant and arrested Bannister shortly after he left, claiming he was weaving and had nearly caused an accident.

Though Bannister admitted he had had one or two beers, a breath test later showed he had no alcohol in his system. A blood test -- administered after the chairman was transported to the hospital in shackles -- verified those results.

Conway later acknowledged his deputies had erred and apologized for the incident. And he asked the GBI to review the case.

Bannister’s attorney, Alan Mullinax, has questioned why the Sheriff’s Office -- which primarily runs the county jail, serves warrants and provides courthouse security -- was involved in the arrest.

Bannister told GBI investigators he felt like he “walked into a trap.” And Mullinax has said the deputy who arrested Bannister, Michael Cummings, should lose his job.

Conway has said his deputies went to extra lengths to gather evidence because they knew the arrest of the commission chairman would cause a stir. But the sheriff said his deputies did not act with “animosity.”

After reviewing the GBI report, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter announced Tuesday that he would not bring criminal charges against the deputies because there was no reason to suspect Bannister was a victim of entrapment.

In his statement Friday, Bannister thanked the GBI and Porter but criticized Conway.

“Although I knew I that would be exonerated of all charges arising from the arrest, I remain concerned about the circumstances which led to the false allegations made against me, particularly with the detailed arrest report authored by Deputy Cummings,” Bannister said.

“In light of the truth, it is clear that the Sheriff’s Department arrest report was designed solely to embarrass me and my family,” he said. “Had I not submitted to the state-administered breath/blood test, I likely would have been wrongfully convicted of DUI based upon a false report.”