I-TEAM: Deputies’ use of force and maintaining public trust

The I-TEAM uncovers a Richmond County deputy who was suspended for not following procedure.
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 5:56 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The I-TEAM uncovered a Richmond County deputy who was suspended for not following procedure.

We found after punching a man he was arresting in the face, several times, the deputy also did not report the use of force back to his employer, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

That man who was hit, Cameron Ruff, came to the I-TEAM claiming excessive use of force, and over several months of getting records on the case we found Ruff was right.

Our I-TEAM is looking into public trust issues that can arise in situations like these.

Especially since it was not until after the I-TEAM started asking questions that the Sheriff’s Office filed a use of force report and disciplined the deputy.

We wanted to know why RSCO investigates itself and what other agencies do instead to maintain public trust.

Richmond County records show back on Oct. 18 of 2022, Deputy George Edenfield responded to Motel 6 on Boy Scout Road.

911 call: “There was a verbal altercation with another guest. They want a criminal trespass and for him to be put off the property.”

On the first floor of the motel is where Edenfield and Ruff ran into each other.

Ruff says he’s been living at Motel 6 for two years with his girlfriend. Body cam shows after a heated argument in the lobby, the situation gets physical.

Ruff can be heard saying on the body cam, “I’m going to tell you one more time not to put your hands on me.”

The video shows Ruff leaving to head upstairs where his room is.

Edenfield follows him repeatedly telling him to grab his things and leave the property.

After going back and forth, Edenfield calls for another unit.

That’s when Deputy Ty Dailey gets on the scene.

“I didn’t have no weapons, no drugs, or nothing, and I didn’t cause no harm, and nobody with me caused no harm,” recalls Ruff to the I-TEAM.

Which is why what happened next is still so perplexing. Ruff says he walked around both deputies to leave.

That’s when the video shows they decide to arrest him and take him to jail. Then, a struggle starts.

Both deputies try to take Ruff downstairs in the elevator.

Ruff remembers his thoughts in that moment. “Please don’t let them take me in an elevator. Don’t let them close that door. And he said he couldn’t do nothing. And when they got me in the elevator, that was it.”

The bodycam video shows after Ruff gets downstairs. Deputy Dailey struggles to get Ruff in the patrol car, that’s when he puts him in a headlock and strikes him several times in the head.

You can hear Dailey say on the bodycam this is “the third fight they’ve had this week.”

Will Rioux: “Were you scared at any point throughout that?”

Ruff: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

A few moments later, Edenfield unzips his vest and addresses everyone watching.

Ruff later came to the I-TEAM, claiming deputies had used excessive force on him.

So, we requested the body cam, training records, personnel files, and use of force reports for both deputies. Initially, we requested the incident report eight days after Ruff was arrested.

The only thing the Sheriff’s Office provided was a citation for trespassing.

The I-TEAM later got Dailey’s personnel file. The first page was a disciplinary report for Ruff’s arrest that night.

That caught our eye because of the date. The I-TEAM first requested body cam of the incident on Dec. 8.

The report reads on “December 9th, Internal Affairs notified a Lieutenant that a use of force report was not completed by Deputy Dailey on the date of Cameron’s arrest.”

That was the day after the initial request for records in this case from the I-TEAM.

It says a report was not completed until Dec. 12, and the sheriff’s office found the force used, was unnecessary.

Again – after the I-TEAM first started asking questions.

According to Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Policy Manual, “use of force reports will be completed and submitted whenever a deputy applies weaponless physical force. That weaponless physical force will be defined as hard-hand techniques.”

That never happened until the I-TEAM put in our first request for records, only after our inquiry was Dailey suspended for seven days without pay.

The manual states “the Sheriff’s office also investigates itself including use of force complaints.”

The I-TEAM wanted to see how other agencies investigate complaints.

In Aiken, the city created the citizens’ review board back in 2016, to work with the Department of Public Safety on citizen complaints.

“Citizens also have a right to have things questioned and looked into,” says John Dangler, who is chairman of the Aiken Citizens Review Board.

“We are citizens, we hear from citizens. And our job is to be the voice and the voice of the citizens in these complaints.”

They typically would look into complaints like the ones in Dailey’s personnel file that has a history of unsatisfactory performance, not using his body camera on calls and getting physical with people while working specials, even striking someone one time to the head with a closed fist.

“We’ve been able to make some really good recommendations about little things that we see, maybe patterns that have emerged that look like we might need a little more training in a certain area,” explains Dangler.

In Aiken, it’s a partnership between the city, the law enforcement agency, and volunteer citizens.

Anyone can submit a complaint that will be looked at by the board and a recommendation will be made to the Aiken Department of Public Safety. They estimate that they see about 20 to 25 cases a year in the city.

Will Rioux to Dangler: “Do you feel like a board like this helps build trust between the community and law enforcement?”

Dangler: “I think so. I think that that was the intention from the very beginning.”

The I-TEAM found according to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, there are more than 160 municipalities that have some form of oversight of law enforcement agencies.

“The presence of the citizens review board makes them do their job better, " adds Dangler.

We wanted to understand more about why Richmond County Sheriff’s Office investigates itself. So, we reached out in writing to ask for an interview. We wanted to know how they investigate their deputies and if they’d be open to the idea of a citizen’s review board.

They replied with this email writing, “We respectfully decline your request for an interview.”

As for Ruff, he is left with bumps and bruises, a court date, and a lengthy ER bill.

“It was all wrong.” He says. “You know, everything. Just the emotional about it was all wrong, you know? I mean, I don’t see no justice in it.”

We looked on the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office website to see if we could find out more about these two deputies. We found that both deputies are corporals, meaning they are supervisors.

Our offer for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to share their side of the situation still stands.