I-TEAM: Camden County jail officers used force on Black inmates disproportionately, records show

WOODBINE, Ga. – An analysis by the News4JAX I-TEAM found inmates at the Camden County jail on whom officers reported using force in recent months were disproportionately Black.

A corrections officer and two deputies with the Camden County Sheriff’s Office were charged with battery and violating their oath of public office in November, days after video was released that showed them beating an inmate. The I-TEAM also found that records show one of them was involved in more than half of the incidents where force was used at the jail from April through September of this year.

In the footage, several corrections officials are seen beating inmate Jarrett Hobbs on Sept. 3 in the Camden County Detention Center. After the video was released publicly last month, the Sheriff’s Office, announced it would do an internal investigation. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was also called in by the local district attorney’s office, leading to charges against the two deputies and the officer.

Timothy Bessent, who is the president of the Camden County NAACP, says the incident highlights his concerns about transparency at the jail.

“Let’s be clear, it was an attempt to cover up of situation with Mr. Hobbs — and not only Mr. Hobbs. We believe there are other cover-ups,” Bessent said.

The I-TEAM found the incident with Hobbs was documented in a use of force report dated Sept. 4.

The report states officers hit Hobbs with their fists and knees, causing bruising and swelling, as well as a hit in the head to Deputy Braxton Massey and a bruised eye and broken hand for Corrections Officer Mason Garrick, whom the report shows went to a hospital.

Two months later, Massey and Garrick, along with Deputy Ryan Biegel, found themselves behind bars. Those three former law enforcement members have since bonded out of jail.

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According to records provided to the I-TEAM by the Sheriff’s Office, officers used force on inmates 25 times at the Camden County jail from April through September. The records show Biegel was involved in more than half of those incidents.

“That’s troubling to us, very troubling to us that this particular officer is named on that many reports,” Bessent said.

The incidents include using wrist restraints, a chair restraint, a stun gun and punches.

An I-TEAM analysis found 56% of the inmates who officers used force on from April to September were Black, while census data shows, as of 2021, it was estimated just about 19% of the county’s population was Black.

Bessent says that’s concerning.

“I believe that there needs to be more training, more sensitivity training,” Bessent said.

In one incident involving Biegel, it was reported an inmate had swelling on their forehead after being punched in the face. Records show the inmate was punched again the following day, leading to a cut.

In another incident, five officers used wrist restraints, “closed hand techniques” and a stun gun to subdue an inmate, whom booking records show was over 6 feet tall and 275 lbs.

Attorneys for Hobbs have previously said they are asking the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to investigate the Sheriff’s Office.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office referred News4JAX to the jail administrator. News4JAX has reached out but has not yet heard back.

The I-TEAM has also asked for a copy of the use of force policy at the jail, as well as more detailed reports about these incidents where force was used at the jail.

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter