A federal judge sentenced Berrien County, Georgia, Sheriff Anthony Heath to two years and six months in prison for beating and kicking two suspects who weren’t resisting arrest, officials said Wednesday.
Heath plead guilty to two counts of violating the civil rights of two non-resistant arrestees by using excessive force against them, prosecutors said.
“The Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in his county,” said U.S. Attorney G.F. Peterman. “His duty to ‘serve and protect’ extends to the arrestees just as much as it does to the rest of the community. His victims are not just those he assaulted in this case, but include the legions of good, decent law enforcement officers who will have to live under the shadow of mistrust his actions have created, as well as the good citizens who have had their faith in law enforcement challenged by those actions.”
According to Heath’s guilty plea, on Jan. 12, 2012, Heath and deputies from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office were engaged in a foot chase of an individual identified only as M.V. by authorities, who had been banned from traveling through the county.
During the chase, Heath saw M.V. and called out to him, “You better not run or I will beat your a**,” or words to that effect. M.V. responded by running into a nearby wooded area.
Heath and multiple Sheriff’s deputies followed M.V. into the woods, where a deputy eventually saw M.V. and arrested him without incident.
When a deputy reported that M.V. was in custody, Heath ordered deputies to wait and hold M.V. in the woods. When Heath arrived, M.V. was lying face-down on the ground, with his hands handcuffed behind his back and was not resisting arrest.
Heath kicked M.V. in the ribs, punched him in the head with a closed fist multiple times and forcefully kneed him in the ribs multiple times, causing M.V. to experience pain and have difficulty breathing.
During a separate incident, on Oct. 1, 2014, Heath repeatedly punched and kicked an arrestee, identified only as J.H., even though J.H. surrendered, lay down on the ground and did not attempt to flee or threaten anyone at any point after his arrest.
Heath punched J.H. with sufficient force to cause his own hand to become swollen and bruised. Heath’s punches caused J.H. to bleed from his mouth and to feel pain.
The FBI investigated this case.
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