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$638,250 Judgment Against Georgia Jail Guard Who Orchestrated Prisoner’s Beating

by Harold Hempstead

On November 9, 2021, a federal judge ordered a former guard to pay $638,250 to a prisoner whose beating by fellow prisoners the guard orchestrated at the Newton County Jail in Covington, Georgia, in 2019. It was not clear, though, how the prisoner would collect from the guard, who was fired after the attack and, as noted by the Court, “has been unemployed since the incident.”

The prisoner, Sean Aaron Hall, who is currently held by the Georgia Department of Corrections, was detained in the lockup on June 13, 2019, on charges including methamphetamine possession, when the guard, Shermaine Alberto Carlisle, let three other prisoners attack him.

The motive for the assault remains unclear. But video evidence presented in the case showed that two prisoners, Demonte Head and Phillip Young, took off their jail IDs and placed them on a table in front of Carlisle, who then used a remote control to open Hall’s cell door, allowing the pair inside. The third prisoner, Raymond Victor, then held the cell door closed to prevent Hall’s escape while the first two brutally beat him, leaving him unconscious and bleeding on the cell floor.

After an investigation into the incident, Sheriff Ezell Brown fired Carlisle, who was criminally charged with battery and making false statements. Yet District Attorney Randy McGinney declined to prosecute the case, citing the poor quality of evidence produced by the Sheriff’s Office investigation, including a failure to identify the other prisoners captured on jail surveillance video of the incident. As a result, all criminal charges against Carlisle were dismissed in August 2020.

That same month Hall filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, accusing the guard of violating his civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by orchestrating and conspiring with the prisoners to commit the attack. Carlisle responded pro se in a February 2021 letter to the Court, denying any part in the assault and blaming it instead on the victim. He said it was Hall who left his cell door open, allowing the other prisoners to enter and beat him. But he stopped participating in the proceeding after that, and a default was granted by the Court on February 8, 2021. At a hearing then held to determine damages on June 15, 2021, Judge William M. Ray II issued his decision:

“The Court finds that Defendant [Carlisle] conspired with the inmates to brutally attack Plaintiff [Hall], which caused Plaintiff to suffer serious physical, cognitive, and emotional and psychological injuries.”

The judge held Carlisle liable for an unconstitutional use of excessive force, which was also an unlawful assault and battery under O.C.G.A. §§ 51-1-13 and 51-1-14. He awarded Hall $150,000 in compensatory damages for his physical injuries, including cognitive and emotional pain and suffering, adding another $450,000 in punitive damages and $38,250 in fees for Hall’s attorneys, Mark Begnaud and Michael J. Eshman of the Decatur firm of Eshman Begnaud LLC.

“Mr. Carlisle was charged with securing and protecting our client,” Bergnaud noted, “and he did the exact opposite—he conspired with other inmates to brutally attack Mr. Hall.”

He added that he was exploring options that included trying to collect the award from the sheriff’s office’s insurance company.

Though the victory against him may be symbolic, the financially strapped guard may not be out of criminal trouble, either. Because the charges against him were dismissed without prejudice, they can be refiled if prosecutors believe they have sufficient evidence. See: Hall v. Carlisle, USDC (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 1:20-cv-03564-WMR (2021).  

Additional sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Covington News

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Related legal case

Hall v. Carlisle