A former Savannah Police sergeant, fired and indicted for an alleged excessive force incident, said he was targeted by Chief Roy Minter and his “personal bias,” according to a recent court filing.
Former Sgt. Octavio Arango’s lawyer filed a motion in Chatham County Superior Court seeking to have his charges thrown out and arguing his indictment was an instance of selective prosecution.
“(Arango) asserts that the selection of his case for criminal prosecution was deliberately based upon an arbitrary and unjustifiable standard, with the prosecution being pushed by Roy W. Minter, Jr., Chief of Police, due to personal bias against (Arango),” the June 8 motion states.
The charges stem from an April 2020 incident where Arango, including another officer Cpl. Daniel Kang, was accused of trying to execute a warrant, body-slamming a man to the ground and detaining him, only to have him turn out to be the wrong person.
A lawsuit filed two years later by the detained man, Darryl Faitele, alleging he sustained serious injuries by the officers and the city was negligent in their training, is part of the complex legal saga springing from the incident.
The ongoing legal cases include grand jury charges against Arango, a federal lawsuit against the city and chief by Kang, and the state lawsuit by Faitele.
Minter announced the two officers’ firings at a news conference in August 2020, at the height of racial justice protests across the country related to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Lawyers for the officers have alleged Minter found a politically opportune moment to fire them and seek charges, when really their firings had to do with the fact they signed onto a human resources complaint against Minter days before.
“I believe that the conduct of two members of the Savannah Police Department during this particular incident was totally unacceptable and egregious behavior,” Minter said at the 2020 press conference.
The department brought the evidence against the officers to the Chatham County District Attorney. A special grand jury in September 2020 indicted Arango on one count of false imprisonment, a felony, and one count of simple battery, a misdemeanor. The grand jury declined to indict Kang.
The motion in the criminal case filed by Arango’s attorney, Michael Schiavone of Savannah law firm Jackson & Schiavone, doesn’t argue against the facts of what happened – though Arango has pleaded not guilty. His attorney argues that the reason to prosecute Arango was based mainly upon Chief Minter’s distaste for Arango.
Schiavone declined to comment.
Chief Minter was unable to comment on the court filing because he was out of the country, said Savannah Police Department spokesperson Bianca Johnson. She said the department as a whole typically doesn’t comment “on any court cases.”
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on a pending case.
“As someone who served as a law enforcement officer and a member of this community, I felt personally that it was absolutely inappropriate,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson in 2020.
Kevin Grogan, a former Savannah Police Department detective and author of two books on his experiences working for the department, is advising Schiavone on the case and he said he has reviewed all of the evidence. He accused Minter of retaliating against Arango and another officer, Cpl. Daniel Kang, for signing onto a human resources complaint against Minter.
“It was a gigantic witch hunt from the start. The only thing I can see is that Minter knew these guys were signatories on this,” Grogan said. Grogan resigned from the department in 2014 following a DUI arrest. He was later indicted for allegedly trying to cover up the wreck, but a jury acquitted him in 2017. He was convicted of DUI.
Mistaken identity, excessive force?
Chief Minter’s 3½-year tenure at the Savannah Police Department has not been without criticism and much of the disapproval expressed has come from the officers who work underneath him.
Seventy-five officers signed a wide-ranging human resources complaint against Chief Minter in April 2020. It alleged that Minter threatened officers who worked under him to instill fear, that he promoted loyalty and punished arbitrarily, made untrue statements to the public and politicians about the department’s effectiveness, and created a breakdown in communication, according to the complaint.
Two of the signees included Arango and Kang.
Four days after signing the group complaint (Kang also sent his own, separate HR complaint), Arango and Kang were involved in a mistaken-identity incident.
The warrants division they were in was understaffed and underfunded prior to April 11, 2020, the day of the incident, according to a federal lawsuit Kang filed against the chief and the city.
The unit was trying to arrest a man, Khalil Kelly, on warrants for aggravated assault and other charges. When officers went to the apartment where they thought Kelly would be, they saw a Black man walking out who they “believed to be Kelly.” The man noticed officers and shut the door, Kang’s lawsuit states.
The officers then kicked in the apartment door.
“After the Black male walked toward them, the officers asked the male to get on the ground repeatedly. After he refused, (Kang) placed the male on the ground for his safety, the team’s safety, and the safety of others nearby,” Kang’s lawsuit states.
The man believed to be Kelly was actually his cousin, Darryl Faitele, who filed his own lawsuit in Chatham County State Court on April 12, 2022.
Faitele described the incident differently than Kang.
“Arango picked up (Faitele), and body-slammed him to the concrete cement of the porch outside the doorstep head-first causing a bleeding gash to his chin witnessed by (Faitele’s) girlfriend,” the lawsuit stated.
Faitele’s Savannah attorney, Soloman Amusan, alleged that Arango had his “bony” knee on Faitele’s back, while he lay on the ground bleeding from his mouth and chin.
Faitele was then handcuffed, sat up in a chair, and began spewing profanities at the officers.
Arango then “punched (Faitele) in the face (and) knocked him to the ground, causing him to land on his right side still in handcuffs,” Faitele’s lawsuit states.
The suit alleges Arango squeezed Faitele’s face with his hand and told him “I hope you go to jail and catch Corona.”
Kang’s lawsuit makes no mention of this.
It does state Faitele was spitting blood and profanity at the officers during a time when fears of coronavirus transmission were high and officers didn’t have masks.
Kang pulled Faitele’s shirt over his face and Arango tied a shirt around Faitele’s face to stop him from spitting, the lawsuit states.
They soon learned that Khalil Kelly, the man they were looking for, was elsewhere.
“The team decided not to arrest Mr. Faitele at that time but to obtain arrest warrants for simple battery and obstruction by hindering at a later date,” Kang’s lawsuit states.
Punishment for speaking out?
At the August 2020 press conference, Minter announced the firing of Arango and Kang for the excessive force incident. Former Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap said at the conference she would present the facts to a grand jury for an indictment.
A month later, Arango was indicted but Kang wasn’t.
Arango and Kang allege Minter seized on the opportunity to punish them for speaking out against him.
Kang’s lawsuit points to an alleged incident months after the firing, on Feb. 10, 2021, where Minter “displayed a PowerPoint presentation of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, and rioting around the country…Chief Minter then displayed a slide with photographs of Kang and his superior, Sergeant Arango. Defendant Minter bragged about his ‘accomplishment’ of firing the two officers.”
Minter responded to the PowerPoint claim in a filing.
“Chief Minter admits that he displayed a PowerPoint at a community meeting and stated that Savannah had fared better than other communities when comparing the levels of property damage and social unrest arising out of community gatherings and protests. The remaining allegations … are denied,” Minter’s lawyer wrote.
Minter disputed Kang’s claims of retaliation, and that he violated Kang’s rights, in a motion filed by Minter’s lawyer.
Kang’s lawsuit is “devoid of any substantive allegations that Chief Minter was aware of (Kang’s HR complaints), and regardless, clearly demonstrate that Chief Minter had an interest in maintaining order, loyalty and discipline among his officers in deciding to terminate Plaintiff because of his misconduct related to Mr. Faitele.”
On March 31, 2022, U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore, Jr., ruled that Chief Minter can still be held personally liable for damages in the lawsuit because his lawyer did not make a sufficient argument of his qualified immunity.
While the case is ongoing, Minter may not be long for his job as Savannah Police chief.
Last month, the Biden administration nominated Minter for the job of U.S. Marshal of the Southern District of Georgia.
He will have to be approved by a panel of U.S. senators for the role.