WOODBINE, Ga. – A Camden County Jail corrections officer was suspended without pay and ordered to undergo remedial training following a recent scuffle with an inmate.
The incident happened 12 days ago but the surveillance video was just released on Wednesday.
The jail administrator said it was an incident in which the inmate and the officer were both at fault, but he also said the officer failed to de-escalate the situation to prevent that violence from erupting.
It happened just before noon on March 24 and involved 23-year-old Zyaire Ratliff, a Muslim inmate who was participating in Ramadan, a one-month period of fasting and prayer.
Jail administrator Rob Mastroianni said the jail was accommodating Ratliff’s religious practice.
“They are not allowed to eat in the daytime according to their religion. So, we don’t give them their noon meal,” he said.
MORE | I-TEAM: Camden County jail officers used force on Black inmates disproportionately, records show
That means their noon meal is given to them with their evening meal. Despite that accommodation, investigators say Ratliff, who was in jail after he violated his probation for robbery and grand theft, chose to get in the lunch line with the other inmates. To the staff, he was not supposed to be there.
“This particular inmate was in line asking questions that were not related to the feeding of noon chow,” Mastroianni said.
As a result, a corrections officer, identified only by his first initial and last name “J. Anderson,” asked Ratliff to leave the line. The video shows the verbal exchange between Ratliff and Anderson.
After several verbal commands to get out, Anderson gets another officer to help him.
A tussle between Anderson and Ratliff led to what appeared to be a strike to Ratliff’s face while he is on the ground. Then you can see a female corrections officer stop Anderson from throwing more strikes before placing Ratliff in handcuffs.
There are more inmates than officers in that block. Mastroianni said it could have ended differently if those inmates chose to jump in. He also said this entire ordeal could have been prevented if Anderson tried to de-escalate the situation instead of quickly using physical force.
“Verbally, we could have brought him out of the cell block and that issue would not have happened in the block with all the other inmates around,” Mastroianni said.
While Ratliff was put on lockdown following the altercation, Anderson was late suspended for one day without pay and ordered to undergo remedial training.
The entire jail staff will now have to attend an upcoming meeting to address what happened and how to prevent it from happening again.
The jail administrator said that altercation has become a teaching moment for his staff.
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.