I-TEAM: Closer look at who’s policing the police in Richmond County

Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 6:11 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - An all-new I-TEAM investigation takes a closer look at who’s keeping watch over those who protect and serve.

It all started when the I-TEAM obtained a cell phone video of an incident from November off Glenn Hills Drive in Augusta. We also have the incident report from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

On the cell phone recording, you can hear Richmond County deputies imply they did not have a warrant to enter the home they wanted to search.

Keishaun Young: “Do you have a warrant to come here?”

Sgt. Megan Inman: “We’re in the process of applying – we’re gonna apply for one.”

The video shows deputies barging in any way with a gun drawn. In a moment like that, the police have all the power. So, what are your rights when you think your rights have been violated? It’s a question still echoing throughout the country after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers all over the country have considered more than 4,500 pieces of legislation tied to policing following George Floyd’s death in May 2020 to May 2022. During the last 12 months, 16 states passed laws related to police oversight.

Neither Georgia nor South Carolina are on that list.

When the I-TEAM started investigating a complaint about Richmond County deputies, we found what some might call, a major conflict of interest. That’s because if you have a complaint about the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, we found you take that complaint to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office where the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office then investigates itself.

“Soon as she put her foot in that door, that’s when I began recording,” said Keishaun Young.

The I-TEAM sat down with her and her family not long after the night Richmond County deputies pushed their way into the home her son shares with his fiancée and young son. Keishaun says she was staying the night and had been asleep on the couch when deputies first knocked on the door. You can also hear her narrating as she’s recording: “I told her she do not have no paperwork. She don’t have no warrant.”

Keishaun Young tells the I-TEAM she was asking Richmond County Deputies questions she says she’s always been taught to ask. Here is part of the exchange on the cell phone video:

Keishaun Young: “Four o’clock in the morning. Do you have a warrant to come here, ma’am? Do you have a warrant to come here? Yes or no?”

Sgt. Inman: “We’re in the process of applying – we’re gonna apply for one.”

That response was enough for Keishaun to believe deputies did, in fact, need a warrant that night. With both sides clearly frustrated, Keishaun says she decided it was safest to wait until deputies had that piece of paper, so she did not open the door. Deputies opened it for her. She is still rolling as multiple deputies push their way inside. You can hear Keishaun yelling they do not have a warrant.

Deputies had a gun pointed at Keishaun’s son.

Lyndale Wilson Jr. Believes he is lucky to be alive.

“If I would’ve been walking down my hallway a little faster, I would have been shot in cold blood,” he said. “Right in front of my son peeking out that door.”

Lyndale says that is why he sat down in that hallway.

He says he did not want deputies to go into his son’s room. His son was four years old. It was his birthday. Video from the incident shows balloons in the corner of the house.

Keishaun kept recording, even as she says deputies knock her to the ground.

“You’re not going to take this phone in my hand. Not gonna do that,” she told the I-TEAM. “And then when they got me down on the ground, she said, ‘sit on her.’ And I looked at her, and I said, ‘What?! You going to George Floyd me now?’”

Meanwhile, she’s worried about her son who, at the time, she believed was being arrested.

“Why did you have to drag me out of my house without no shoes on? No shirt? And take me downtown?”

Lyndale tells the I-TEAM deputies handcuffed him and put him in the back of a patrol car.

“Like a criminal,” Lyndale said. “Like I’ve committed a crime. Like I have committed a crime.”

Lyndale had not committed any crime. According to the incident report, he was the victim in this case. That’s right. He is listed as the victim.

So why did Richmond County deputies barge into his house in the middle of the night and take him away in handcuffs? That’s a good question.

It’s one we wanted to ask Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree, but he’s refusing to sit down with the I-TEAM for an interview about this.

The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office also declined to answer any questions about this cell phone video or this case, citing an open investigation. So, documents will have to speak for them.

According to this incident report, deputies thought Lyndale Wilson might be responsible for a stabbing. With this kind of response, you might think it was a murder or that Lyndale had a lengthy arrest record, but the I-TEAM found neither IN the case. The report shows the stab wound only required three stitches, and when the I-TEAM checked, we found Lyndale has no arrest record in Richmond County.

What we did find was an arrest record for the man who was stabbed. He ended up being the suspect in this case, even though he pointed the finger at Lyndale.

The report notes he wasn’t very cooperative. It notes no one was very cooperative, but eventually, those reluctant to help deputies told investigators they were worried Lyndale was being violent with his fiancée, Jasmine. When they arrived at Lyndale and Jasmine’s home, the report notes there appeared to be blood on the ground outside, so they knocked on the door.

You can hear deputies ask about Jasmine on the cell phone video: Keishaun Young: “They just woke us up out of our sleep.”

Deputy: “Ok. Well, There was a stabbing over here earlier.”

Keishaun Young: “There wasn’t no stabbing over here.”

Deputy: “Alright. Jasmine, can you come out?”

Keishaun Young: “Jas, you want to go out that door – why is you got your feet in the door, ma’am. Could you tell me?”

Deputy: “It’s for our safety.”

Keishaun Young: “No – No!”

Deputy: “Because we don’t know what’s going on behind that door!”

Keishaun Young: “Nothing. Y’all just woke us up!”

Jasmine Leverett tells the I-TEAM she had been drinking and wasn’t fully dressed but came to the door multiple times.

“I came right back after I put some clothes on and told them again that I was okay,” she said.

but in the weeks and now months since this happened, Jasmine says she is not okay.

“Scared to go outside, depressed, you know, I’m scared to drive to work, you know, scared of the police on the road,” she said. “I’m just afraid, you know, I don’t know what to do. You know, I gotta get counseling.”

On December 6, 2022, Jasmine Leverett filed an official complaint with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, repeating a lot of the concerns heard on the cell phone video like deputies not producing a warrant when asked and forcing entry.

The family shared the letter with the I-TEAM where RCSO found Jasmine’s complaint was “unfounded.” The letter reads, in part, “After a thorough review, all of the above RCSO employees’ actions did not violate policy or law.”

The letter is dated Dec. 7, just one day after Jasmine filed her complaint. That means it took the sheriff’s office one day to investigate itself and decide its own employees did nothing wrong. Deputies say they reviewed body cameras, but the family says they were never questioned.

“Oh, I was appalled,” said Manuel Gomez. He is a private investigator in New York now working with the family.

“I got a better chance to win the lotto than them getting a warrant at four o’clock in the morning.”

He’s helping the family reach out to the ACLU and the NAACP.

“These people have nowhere to turn. They have to go to the same police department that violated them to check themselves. That’s insanity.”

The I-TEAM sent an open records request to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office for complaints about the deputies involved in this incident. We did not receive a copy of the complaint Jasmine Leverett filed as part of our request. Instead, we received copies of two complaints against Sgt. Megan Inman, the deputy at the door and the one who pointed her gun at Lyndale.

Both were “unsubstantiated.”

One accused her of racial profiling, and the other called her “rude.” The Sheriff’s Office cleared her of any wrongdoing in both.

“They have to check themselves, monitor themselves, investigate themselves and judge themselves. That’s impossible,” added Gomez.

It can also create distrust in the community.

It’s why some places like Atlanta and most recently, Athens-Clarke County, have independent boards with the power to investigate. According to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, civilian oversight boards need more access to records law enforcement agencies to withhold from the public.

The non-profit says state and local lawmakers “can and should” pass laws permitting localities to establish civilian oversight bodies – with subpoena power.

Right now, more than 160 communities have laws that address law enforcement oversight. Since George Floyd’s death, an additional 80 cities have reached out to NACOLE about bringing oversight to their community.

As for our community, according to its own website, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office “is the largest full-service sheriff’s office in Georgia.” That is the very reason Gomez tells the I-TEAM he believes “Richmond County is the poster child for a citizen review board.”

At the very least, citizen oversight might help restore some of the trust lost that night Keishaun Young answered the door.

“They could do whatever they want to do to me, but I don’t got no rights? Those rights do not apply to me,” Keishaun said. “Do they apply to me?”

Keishaun says deputies searched the home multiple times and found nothing.

Again, no one was arrested, and the family says no one ever apologized. That night, that family was innocent, but deputies did not know that at the time.

There were two sides to the door that night just like there are two sides to every door every time law enforcement officers respond to a call.

Some experts say independent oversight can also protect officers. A recent study found communities with civilian review boards, with broad authority, have seen a reduction in violent crime as well as the number of officers killed.