Former Gwinnett Comm. Chair suing sheriff over DUI arrest

Updated:

Sheriff Butch Conway

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - Gwinnett County's former commission chairman is suing the county sheriff and two deputies, over his arrest on drunken driving charges.

Charles Bannister was arrested on DUI charges in June 2010 after he left Cafe Hot Wing, a Lilburn-area restaurant. A witness called an off-duty sheriff's deputy to report Bannister was drinking and driving his county-issued car.

Although two breath tests showed Bannister had no alcohol in his system, deputies booked Bannister into the county jail, took his mugshot and then transported the shackled commission chair to Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville for blood tests. Those tests verified the earlier breath test results.

Banister claims Sheriff Butch Conway targeted him for political reasons.

"Mr. Bannister would speak against the positions the sheriff advocated, he would not take care of the sheriff's friends and things of that nature," attorney David Walbert said. "Unfortunately, the sheriff thinks you can use the unbridled power of the office for your own personal and political gain. If the Constitution doesn't provide a remedy for this then we don't have a Constitution anymore."

Conway issued a public apology after the charges were cleared.

Bannister, who was elected into office in 2004 and reelected in 2008, abruptly resigned Oct. 8, 2010, after appearing before a special grand jury investigating county land purchases. At the time, he said past events, including his arrest and exoneration of the DUI charge, "placed an undeserved strain on my family and has threatened my own health."

A grand jury report, unsealed weeks later, disclosed that the grand jury was prepared to indict Bannister on a perjury charge when he offered to step down, in effect giving up his office to avoid prosecution.