Settlement close in Gwinnett case of excessive force at jail

Gwinnett County is close to settling a suit about abuses at the jail. Bob Andres / AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett County is close to settling a suit about abuses at the jail. Bob Andres / AJC FILE PHOTO

More than 80 people who sued Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway regarding alleged abuses by the county jail's Rapid Response Team are on the verge of settling the suit, according to court documents.

The amount of the settlement isn’t known, and Gwinnett County commissioners will still have to approve the settlement agreement with a public vote.

But meeting minutes from the latest settlement conference show that 83 plaintiffs who accused the sheriff’s office of abuse have agreed to a settlement offer. The document was filed late last month.

John Cicala, an attorney representing a number of the plaintiffs, said Wednesday that he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the settlement or the mediation that was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan J. Baverman.

County spokespeople, from the commissioners’ office and the jail, declined to comment about pending litigation.

There are still some plaintiffs who are not party to the settlement.

Conway and Lt. Col. Carl Sims are accused of subjecting inmates to “unreasonable, unnecessary, and gratuitous pain and restraint in retaliation for loud, intoxicated, or alleged noncompliant behavior,” when the inmates were secure and not posing any safety risk, according to the lawsuit.

The suit says the county’s Rapid Response Team was formed in case of a riot or some other emergency, but was instead used “to exert control over disruptive inmates.”

The team has frequently and pervasively used excessive force to inflict "gratuitous pain" in violation of the constitution, the suit said.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2018, was brought about four months after a member of the Rapid Response Team was caught on surveillance video punching a mentally ill inmate. Deputy Aaron Masters was fired and charged with battery.

The inmate in that case, Shelby Clark, is a lead plaintiff in the suit. It says that Clark suffered injuries to her legs, back, neck, face, head, and eye, including partial vision loss.

The suit follows a separate lawsuit regarding the Rapid Response Team's use of "restraint chairs."

Channel 2 Action News is reporting that it’s unclear if the county plans to admit any fault in the case, which reporters were told could be resolved next month.

The next court date to confirm the settlement is scheduled for mid-April.