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During an interview with internal affairs, Smith said the inmate "didn't have to curse me out like that in front of everyone."
In the course of that interview, internal affairs Lt. T.M. Williams told Smith that other inmates were backing up Johnson's story. "Can you explain why 10 witnesses would have the same version that is consistent with this grievance?" she asked.
"I really can't," Smith answered. "I don't know. I really can't tell you that. ... I try to run that floor like it's supposed to be ran [sic]. That floor was out of control until me coming in there. ... And I guess the guys had, you know, they had a little something against me."
Williams concluded the interview by asking Smith if he would take a lie detector test. He agreed. So did his accuser.
Johnson was asked if deputy Smith had grabbed his shirt, hit him in the face, thrown him on the floor and knocked him into a door frame. To each question, Johnson answered yes. The polygraph noted no signs of deception, according to Lt. Williams' investigative report.
The interviewer then asked Smith if he did any of these things to the inmate. Smith denied each allegation. The polygraph showed his answers were deceptive.
Nonetheless, internal affairs ruled that Johnson's complaint was unsubstantiated. "Statements provided by ... witnesses showed some inconsistencies," Lt. Williams determined. "However, it is likely that some degree of physical contact did occur."
She recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Smith and added this caveat to the bottom of her investigative file: "It should be noted that since his employment in 1996, four out of four complaints (there actually were five) filed against Deputy Kelvin Smith involve allegations of inmate abuse. ... It is recommended that Deputy Smith's behavior be closely monitored during the performance of his duties, particularly where inmates are concerned."
Smith received his second verbal warning.
But the complaints continued. In April 1999, inmate Hank Logan filed a complaint against Smith for allegedly hitting him in the chest, knocking him backward onto metal steps and injuring his back. Logan was treated at the jail clinic.
The case was closed three months later, when Logan said he did not want to take a lie detector test. He instead filed suit against Smith in Fulton County court. The lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount of damages for Logan's injuries, is pending.
The following spring, after another physical abuse complaint, Smith got a letter from Chief Deputy Henderson.
Henderson wrote in the May 2000 letter that "based on the information currently available to me, this is to notify you that I am giving you a WRITTEN WARNING." He noted that Smith had broken a sheriff department rule of conduct that states: "Employees of this department shall not act in an official or private capacity in such a manner as to bring discredit upon the department or upon themselves."
Henderson died last year, but internal affairs Maj. Brereton says such a letter would be placed in a deputy's personnel file after the chief deputy or the sheriff noticed a significant number of complaints.
A track record like Smith's might only show that "some deputies are a little more forceful or follow the rules a little more stringently," Brereton says. Inmates tend to rebel against such deputies, and therefore file more complaints against them, according to Brereton. He admits, however, that some complaints are settled unfairly in the deputy's favor. "All these folks can't be wrong," he says of inmates who file grievances.
Brereton says that in the absence of concrete observations -- witnesses and visible wounds -- "unsubstantiated" is sometimes the only conclusion to draw.
But he says if the injuries are serious enough, they may be grounds for termination.
"If a guy's eyes are all blacked up, his nose and lips are busted, he's got body bruises or something like that, and we felt it was serious enough, we would go ahead and terminate" an abusive deputy, he says.
Given the injuries, witnesses and polygraph test results tied to the complaints against Smith, however, it's not at all clear that the department always follows such principles. In fact, neither Brereton nor current Chief Deputy Caudell Jones could name the last Fulton County deputy to be suspended or fired over a physical abuse complaint. Sheriff's department officials say they don't keep statistics on the number of suspensions and terminations resulting from physical abuse complaints.
And then there's the related issue of screening deputies for unsupervised, off-duty security work at private establishments.
"If a person's been disciplined a whole lot, we don't let them work [secondary jobs]," Chief Deputy Jones says.
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