BALDWIN, Ga. — Gangsters with badges. That’s how a Habersham County man described a small Georgia police department after an arrest left him scared for life.
A Channel 2 investigation uncovered several body camera videos that are part of a disturbing pattern of Baldwin police crossing the line.
“Atari get up! Please,” said Officer Ryan Thomas on body camera video.
“No, don’t touch me,” Atari Brown screamed.
Nearly two years after his arrest, Brown, seen handcuffed on the ground in the video, finally got his first look at body camera footage of his encounter with Baldwin Police in 2019.
“I can’t watch it,” he said after viewing just a few minutes of it and walked away.
Brown called 911 after his fiancée slapped him at their home. But the situation quickly escalated when Officer Ryan Thomas pulled his Taser because he suspected that Brown had been drinking.
“You just kicked me,” Brown said on the video.
“He kicked me under my ribs and under my arm twice,” Brown told Channel 2.
The video also shows Thomas bent his thumb backwards.
“My fingers had swollen up and they were purple,” Brown said.
After picking him up by his handcuffs, Thomas applied pressure to Brown’s neck before arresting him for obstruction, public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
“They act like a bunch of gangsters or something just because they’re cops. They can do what they want to do,” said Brown.
Two Cornelia Police officers were so disturbed by what they witnessed, they reported it to their chief.
Channel 2 Action News filed multiple open records requests and discovered more incidents involving Thomas in 2020.
In March, Thomas responded to a Walmart in Cornelia where he put a handcuffed robbery suspect in a chokehold, according to a police report.
“You gonna stop fighting or you gonna go to sleep?” Thomas asked the suspect.
Four months later, Thomas responded to a report of a gunshot-like sound at the Skyland motel. Other officers appeared to have the situation under control.
When Thomas arrived, he didn’t ask any questions. Instead, he threatened and pushed the woman in the parking lot to the ground.
“Sit down! Sit down! You better sit down before I put you down,” Thomas yelled before pushing her, body camera footage shows.
Before joining the Baldwin Police Department, Thomas resigned as a Gwinnett County deputy in 2014 after buying alcohol for an underage man in a bar.
Thomas claimed he didn’t know the man was under 21. In 2017, Oakwood Police fired Thomas for violating procedures in his handling of an accident.
But he isn’t the only Baldwin officer accused of crossing the line.
“You can either open the door or I’m going to force my way in!” yelled Lt. Ryan Provost on body camera video.
In August, Provost responded to reports of a woman calling 911 and cursing out the dispatcher. He ordered the woman to go inside and get her ID.
When she refused to come out, Provost is seen on video kicking down her door and arresting her.
“Put your hands behind,” said Provost on the video.
“I have my wallet,” the woman said on the video.
Provost also was named in a former Baldwin sergeant’s recently settled wrongful termination lawsuit. It claimed Provost used excessive force on a suspect’s girlfriend and later bragged about it to other officers.
Provost resigned but is now a Dawson County Sheriff’s deputy.
Provost’s personnel file shows he resigned from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office in 2013 during an investigation into a tip he used cocaine. Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council investigated the cocaine accusation and took no disciplinary action against Provost.
In September, Baldwin’s newly hired police chief decided to quit and went to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to report a pattern of conduct that concerned him. He mentioned the Thomas and Provost incidents.
After the GBI reviewed the evidence, The District Attorney’s Office determined the officers committed no crime. A Baldwin internal affairs investigation had previously cleared Thomas of any wrongdoing.
But they all made their decisions without speaking to Brown or watching his fiancée’s cell phone video of the arrest.
“And there lies the problem because if none of those people were questioned, statements were not taken from them, other video evidence was not secured, then you have not done a complete investigation,” said DeKalb County’s former Public Safety Director Cedric Alexander.
Channel 2 asked Alexander to review the videos.
“We can no longer have this kind of cowboy attitude, behavior, kicking in people’s doors because they close them in front of us or being able to squeeze someone’s thumb because they won’t get up. Those types of little things like that you better start paying attention to because if you do not, I can assure you they will be very problematic,” Alexander said.
The City of Baldwin declined an on-camera interview, instead sending a statement:
“The Mayor and City Council of the City of Baldwin are committed to protecting and promoting the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. To that end, the City is committed to excellence in law enforcement and supports the Baldwin Police Department in pursuit of its mission to protect life and property, to prevent crime, and to reduce the fear of crime. Integral to that mission is the partnership between the City and our community.
“Baldwin police officers have taken an oath to protect and serve the City’s residents, workers, and visitors. To that end, the Baldwin Police Department strives to uphold the sanctity of human life, avoid escalation, respect the value and worth of all persons, and seek peaceful resolutions.
“The Baldwin Police Department operates under structured guidelines concerning the use of force, as well as procedures for investigating use of force incidents, both deadly and non-deadly. In all incidents, it is the policy of the Baldwin Police Department that officers shall only use force necessary to achieve a lawful law enforcement objective.
“All incidents involving any use of force trigger reporting responsibilities of the officer involved, employees witnessing any incident, as well as the officer’s supervisor; and all such incidents are reviewed at least annually to ascertain additional training and policy needs.
“Officers receive regular training on use of force policies and procedures. Following internal investigation of the Baldwin Police Department, if situations are identified in which policies and procedures may have been violated, external review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or the District Attorney’s Office may be warranted.
“The City has been informed that those agencies have reviewed the conduct of the two officers involved and found that the amount of force employed did not constitute a crime. Despite the findings of those agencies, the City of Baldwin has been proactive in response to the current issues. One of the two officers involved is no longer employed by the City of Baldwin.
“The other officer has received specific training related to de-escalation techniques to better serve the mission of the Baldwin Police Department. Additionally, the City of Baldwin is engaging the services of a law enforcement consultant to review all policies and personnel of the Baldwin Police Department to ensure the highest level of commitment to its ideals.
“Any person who believes they have experienced misconduct on the part of a City of Baldwin police officer is encouraged to report such conduct to the Department’s Internal Affairs Unit by calling (706) 776-5256.”
But the city’s response isn’t good enough for Brown.
“Justice has to be served. If not for me, just everybody else that goes through it in Baldwin,” said Brown.
Channel 2 reached out to Thomas, who sent this statement:
“These incidents were cleared by an internal investigation at the time of the events. As well as two separate external and independent investigations by the GBI as well as the Habersham District Attorney’s office. All three cleared my actions and found no wrong-doing with these incidents.”
Channel 2 Action News called Provost, but he did not respond.
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