TRO ruling

The City of Blackshear’s petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Sheriff Ramsey Bennett regarding an ongoing dispute over the housing of city inmates in the county jail has been denied.

Senior Judge E. M. Wilkes III issued that ruling Monday, March 1. The order was filed in Pierce County Superior Court Thursday, March 4.

“At the February 11, 2021 hearing in this matter and in his answer to the verified petition, respondent (Bennett) represented that he would continue to accept and house all arrestees of the Blackshear Police Department. Based on these representations by the Respondent, this Court finds that there is no immediate risk of harm or loss to the Petitioner (City of Blackshear). Accordingly, the Petitioner’s request for a temporary restraining order is hereby denied,” the order reads.

Rick Currie, Bennett’s attorney, told The Times he was pleased with the ruling.

Wilkes’ ruling follows a TRO hearing held at the Courthouse Annex February 11 at which the judge indicated he would review case law and arguments presented by the city’s special counsel, Brandon Palmer, and Bennett’s attorney, Currie, and then rule on the matter.

The TRO would have mandated Bennett accept all inmates arrested or charged by the City of Blackshear Police Department into the Pierce County jail for the next 30 days.

Wilkes delayed ruling on the TRO, however, while both parties attempted to reach a consent order detailing the sheriff’s verbal agreement on the hearing stand to accept all inmates from Blackshear Police Department without requiring a warrant be issued prior to booking.

Palmer and Currie confirmed Monday, February 22, that neither party could agree on the wording for their consent order and Wilkes would be tasked with ruling on the TRO.

Wilkes’ order filed last week sets another hearing date for 10 a.m. Friday, May 14, regarding the city’s petition for a writ of mandamus and interlocutory injunction. The city’s petition for a TRO filed January 20 also requested the judge consider those items.

An interlocutory injunction requires notice to both parties and a more complete development of the facts and law. “Interlocutory” means the injunction is issued before the case is fully completed, explains David Hudson, Georgia Press Association (GPA) general counsel.

According to the city’s petition, an interlocutory injunction would “protect Petitioner’s (City of Blackshear) interest after the expiration of the temporary restraining order.”

A writ of mandamus is defined under Georgia law as an “extraordinary” remedy. It is a type of relief that would be ordered only after a full development of the facts and law before the presiding judge.  If the public officials have discretion in regard to the performance of the challenged duties, the writ would not be issued.

What the city pays for housing inmates and who has the authority to negotiate that rate will most likely be the next matters debated in the case.

Most recently, the city has paid $35/day per inmate as set forth in two agreements  — a 2013 intergovernmental agreement signed by city and county officials and Sheriff Bennett, and a 2018 Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) adopted by the county and city.

Bennett sent a letter to city officials in September 2020 indicating he intended to terminate the 2013 agreement at year end unless it could be renegotiated. He requested an increase to $45/day. Counsel for the city argues they are bound by the $35/day rate established in the SDS and Bennett does not have the authority to change the rate or turn inmates away.

When a new agreement was not reached by year end, a city inmate facing a domestic violence charge was not accepted into the jail until a warrant was issued and a bond hearing conducted. The inmate was booked briefly in Ware County until those processes were completed and then returned to Pierce County.

Read more coverage on this ongoing story in the December 16, 2020, January 20, January 27, February 3, 10, 17 and 24th editions of The Blackshear Times, and on The Times’ website at www.theblacksheartimes.com.