Former Berrien County, Georgia, Sheriff, Anthony Heath, 45, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised relief, for using excessive force against two non-resistant arrestees. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Acting U.S. Attorney G.F. Peterman III of the Middle District of Georgia made the announcement.
On June 29, 2016, Heath pleaded guilty to two counts of violating an individual’s civil rights. He was sentenced today by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Hugh Lawson of the Middle District of Georgia.
According to Heath’s guilty plea, on Jan. 12, 2012, Sheriff Heath and several deputies from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) engaged in an extended foot chase of an individual identified only as M.V., who they were attempting to arrest. A BCSO deputy eventually saw M.V. in the woods and arrested him without incident. When a deputy reported to Heath that M.V. was in custody, the sheriff ordered deputies to hold M.V. in the woods until he could get there. When Heath arrived, M.V. was lying face-down on the ground, with his hands cuffed behind his back, and was not resisting arrest. Nevertheless, 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 suffer pain and have difficulty breathing. Heath bruised his hand punching M.V. in the head.
During a separate incident, on Oct. 14, 2014, Heath repeatedly punched and kicked another 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. As a result of his conviction, Heath was removed from his position as sheriff.
“When Heath beat compliant, handcuffed arrestees, he abused the public’s trust and did a disservice to his fellow colleagues in law enforcement, the vast majority of whom do their jobs with honor and integrity,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “The Justice Department will continue to ensure that law enforcement officers protect the rights of all individuals in their custody.”
“The Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in his county,” said U.S. Attorney 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.”
The FBI conducted the investigation. Trial Attorneys Stephen Curran and Mary J. Hahn of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.