Photo by Curt Yeomans
New Order National Human Rights Organization representatives and a friend of Kevin Gerard Guerrier pray together following a press conference on Wednesday. They are demanding justice for Guerrier, who had been in a coma since an April 6 courtroom scuffle with Clayton County sheriff’s deputies. He died Monday.
A Marietta-based human rights group demanded accountability from Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough and his office on Wednesday, following the death of an inmate who ended up in a local hospital after a courtroom scuffle with deputies.
New Order National Human Rights Organization Founder Gerald Rose said he was upset by news that Kevin Gerard Guerrier was left in a coma following an April 6 scuffle with Clayton County Sheriff’s deputies, in a courtroom at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, in Jonesboro. Guerrier died Monday night at Southern Regional Medical Center, in Riverdale.
The incident is being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Rose criticized Kimbrough for the way his deputies handled Guerrier, and compared it to the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, during a press conference and prayer vigil outside the hospital. He is calling for the deputies involved to be punished, possibly by being fired.
“I’d rather see this young man alive to see his day in court, instead of burying another young man that we feel had possibly been murdered,” Rose told reporters. “We’re not going to just sweep this thing under the rug, and that’s why we’re out here. Justice will be served.”
Rose said he is planning to attend the next Clayton County Board of Commissioners meeting, on May 1, to continue to put pressure on the sheriff’s office, and the rest of the county government, to make sure similar incidents do not happen in the future.
The Sheriff’s office has released few details about what happened in the courtroom that day, because of the GBI’s investigation. The only information that has been released is assertions that Guerrier tried to “rush” an unidentified Clayton County judge, during a hearing at the courthouse, and that deputies “prevented” him from reaching the judge’s bench.
“If, indeed, there is any evidence of misconduct ... I think that the persons involved — up to, and including, the sheriff — should be held accountable,” said Riverdale resident, Stanley Byars, who stood with Rose at the press conference.
Online court records show that Guerrier was scheduled to have a hearing in Clayton County State Court on that day, on charges stemming from a fight he had with his live-in girlfriend last year at their College Park duplex. During that fight, Guerrier allegedly prevented his girlfriend from calling 9-1-1 by pulling a phone from the wall jack and throwing it against a wall — destroying it.
Court records show he was also accused of getting into another courtroom scuffle with deputies in early March, when he allegedly tried to run away from them in a courtroom.
Rose said Guerrier’s past legal problems did not matter, however.
“We don’t want to judge this young man’s background,” the community activist said. “Now you have things coming out that he’s been involved with the law before. At the same time, that gives no reason for this young man —that’s been in trouble with the law before — possibly being beat up, and possibly being murdered.”
Although Rose and others criticized the sheriff’s office for what happened to Guerrier, the backdrop is that Kimbrough is up for re-election this year — with more than half a dozen people saying they plan to run against him.
Rose held a press conference in January to announce he was supporting former Sheriff Victor Hill, who was facing a grand jury indictment on a long list of charges. Hill had already announced at the time that he was planning to run against Kimbrough this year, to get his old office back, and is said to still be campaigning actively for the position.
Participants in Wednesday’s press conference said the call for accountability over Guerrier’s death was not intended to be a political move against Kimbrough, however. “It’s noticeable that Victor Hill is not here today,” said Byars, who also attended Rose’s press conference for Victor Hill.
Still, comparisons between Hill and the current sheriff were made by Rose and others during the press conference. One such comparison came when Rose asserted that he had an easier time getting meetings with Hill — when he was sheriff —than he has with Kimbrough.
Kimbrough could not be reached for comment.
A man claiming to be a childhood friend of Guerrier said he does not blame Kimbrough for his friend’s death, however. College Park resident, Steve Reynolds, who said he had known Guerrier for approximately 16 years, said he blamed solely the deputies who scuffled with his friend in the courtroom for his injuries and eventual death.
“He’s [Kimbrough] responsible for the officers, but the officers are responsible for their own actions,” Reynolds said. “They need to focus on the officers that did this.”
Reynolds said he initially thought Guerrier –– who “was on dialysis” –– had died of natural causes, but found out from someone on Facebook that his friend had been in a scuffle with deputies before he went into the hospital. He added that he was not aware if Guerrier had any other medical conditions, besides needing to be on dialysis.
And, it will be a little while before investigators know whether an illness, or injuries sustained during the scuffle caused Guerrier’s death.
The GBI conducted an autopsy of Guerrier’s body on Tuesday, but the agency’s spokesman, John Bankhead, said it is expected that it will take the state’s medical examiner “several weeks” to determine the cause of death.
He added that even after the cause of death is determined, the medical examiner’s report will not be released to the public, since it will be included in the GBI’s investigation.
“It will be turned over to the [Clayton County] district attorney, to make a decision on this case,” Bankhead said. “The GBI doesn’t make decisions. It just collects the facts to present to the DA, so the DA can look at the file, and make a determination on what actions — if any — should be taken.”