The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not necessarily those of The Georgia Virtue.
Sunday afternoon the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office posted a press release regarding a correctional officer, Dayton Beasley, who was allegedly found to be providing contraband to inmates in the Wayne County jail. The press release, while lacking professionalism in tone and verbiage, offered a level of transparency that most everyone could appreciate.
Before we go any further, I want to be clear: If Beasley is guilty of the offenses for which he was both terminated and arrested, I fully support any consequence that follows…so long as it is administered lawfully. He should be held accountable. Contraband inside the walls of a jail is a danger to inmates and staff and it’s all too prevalent.
But this story goes well beyond that. In fact, the story actually leaves that in the dust. So much so that hardly anyone is discussing what Beasley allegedly did wrong. They’re only discussing what the Sheriff’s Office did as a result.
In a video published not long after the press release, Chief Deputy Mike Hargove can be seen turning a handcuffed Beasley around as he uses scissors to cut off his county-embroidered polo shirt. I’ve seen this done once before on an officer in New Mexico, though that officer was charged with domestic violence after his girlfriend was hospitalized from her injuries. Some say it’s to humiliate and condemn the individual while others worry about the uniform appearing in a booking photo. Either way, it is difficult to watch.
Anyway, in Sunday’s video, this happens before a group of a dozen other WCSO employees looking on as another individual records the entire thing over several minutes. At one point, Beasley is told to ‘turn toward the camera’ so they can show off what they’ve done. “You come to our jail and do this, this is what it’s gon’ get you,” an officer is heard saying in the video. “You’re a disgrace to this uniform, and you need to go to jail for good.”
After some 33,000+ views and almost 500 comments – many of which were not favorable to the agency, the Sheriff’s Office made matters worse (for themselves) and deleted the video. A milquetoast post followed in which an unnamed individual spoke in first person and explained that the Sheriff was not aware that the video was posted to social media, that he (the individual) appreciated any support for the video offered before it was deleted, and he was sorry to anyone who didn’t like it. That sounds more like an apology I’d muster from a toddler at my first job as a Sunday School teacher, not a grown man in a position of power, but here we are.
I filed an Open Records Request early Monday morning for a number of things from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, to include disciplinary and termination policies, proof that the video and comments were archived in accordance with state law, and a few things about their social media policies. I, like many others, have several questions about what occurred, why it happened publicly, and what the office has done with the evidence. I’ll offer the office some praise for their timeliness – I received most of the rest around 4:30 p.m. this afternoon, but every answer has really just exacerbated the frustration about this story.
Let’s break it down.
Destruction of Public Records
First, the Office destroyed public records. In their response to me, the Office said they have attempted to recover the original video and any accompanying comments but have thus far been unable to do so. I was directed to the comment section where other commenters re-posted the video if I wanted a copy. The Georgia Archives provisions outlining social media records retention under the federal Freedom of Information Act require agencies to maintain records of every post and comment made. WCSO, as a constitutional office, is required to adhere to these standards just as other state and county officials, and local boards of education are. The fact that the office destroyed these records because the comments were not favorable…is even less favorable.
In my Open Records Request (ORR), I asked for the policy on social media. I was told that Sheriff Moseley, who took office in January, is still operating under the policies of former Sheriff John Carter as Moseley works to draft his own policies. Nevertheless, the policy is clear: Procedure 307(.05)(B)(1) says that all information regarding internal investigations is released through the Sheriff of Wayne County. So, either the post was dishonest and the Sheriff did know about the video being posted or he did not and someone should be held accountable for its posting. I requested the names of the individuals who are authorized to publish to the official social media accounts, but that information was not provided.
The video demonstrates every reason why agencies should be legally barred from arresting an individual that worked for them previously. While most professional agencies have the decency to avoid crossing the line, WCSO obviously did not. If the arrest and booking could not be handled with decorum, it should have been handed off to another agency.
Further, had the officer been a female, would the behavior be the same?
In the unsigned apology post (very transparent, by the way), the poster asserted that the video was published for transparency. Is it WCSO policy that every person arrested be posted to their social media accounts? That’s a rhetorical question – the answer is ‘no.’
Once WCSO fired Beasley, he was demoted from employee to detainee since his arrest quickly followed. But even if he was still an employee, the actions in the video went well beyond what is outlined in the county policy manual on discipline and termination. Have they learned nothing from the Garret Rolfe case? Terminations must be done by the book – because policies and the law dictate it.
As a side note, if this is how detainees at the Wayne County Jail are treated, there is certainly cause for an investigation by an outside agency.
Perhaps more alarmingly, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office demonstrated to the public that they have no appreciation for the concept of innocent unless proven guilty. Beasley has due process rights, but a pecker measuring contest disguised as a public tar and feather display overshadowed those on Saturday. Now, any administrative board will have to consider this behavior at the time of termination. And lest we not forget the way the video has tainted a possible pool of jurors.
“You need to go to jail for good.”?? Really? Beasley allegedly made trades with inmates and, if he did that, he violated his oath of office. A few years in prison and some time on probation would suffice if it also means he can never serve as a corrections officer again. “To jail for good”? Get a grip. Our jails and prisons are bursting at the seams and there are violent criminals who should be off the streets and in those facilities. For good.
Do you remember two summers ago when the City of Tybee Island got a piece of equipment stuck and they subsequently sunk four pieces of equipment trying to get the first piece before they called in help from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources? That is essentially what WCSO has done here. Had they stopped at a press release and perhaps a booking photo, the community would have undoubtedly offered a glaring show of support for the crackdown, accountability, and transparency.
But it is an actual talent to make a victim out of an individual who is arrested for an offense that everyone opposes. Some may even call it an art. You have to be woefully deliberate or distressingly unintelligent to make people more upset about what you did to ‘punish’ (alleged) corruption than the actual corruption itself.
The policies in place and the decorum with which we demand detainees be treated are not mere inconveniences and they’re not meant to be guard rails to take the fun out of arresting people. They are for the protection of the alleged offender…and the agency.
It appears that the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office not only needs to allocate time to keeping a more watchful eye over its correctional guards, but perhaps a proverbial ankle monitor on the command staff. That’s a general conclusion because public records provided Monday don’t offer an explanation as to who thought Sunday would be a good idea and why.
And as the sayings go, you know, the ones about those in glass houses not throwing stones, or sweeping your own stoop before dusting up the mess of another. In this case, we can only hope the one holding the scissors doesn’t have anything in need of a little shearing.