During a January stop for a minor traffic violation, a Camden County Sheriff’s deputy rammed a handcuffed woman’s head into a police cruiser, according to dashcam footage. The sheriff’s office suspended her for two days, but in early spring she was honored as a “Deputy of the Month.”
This week, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed it is investigating the law enforcement officer at the request of the Brunswick-area district attorney, a development prompted after civil rights activists’ complaints about what they believe is a pattern of aggressive behavior by the deputy.
The nearly month-old probe of the use-of-force incident involving Deputy Christine “Christi” Newman is still underway, a GBI spokesperson said. Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA Keith Higgins’ office says it is waiting for the report before commenting.
“The DA’s Office will make a determination when the investigation is received and reviewed,” a representative from Higgins’ office wrote in a statement Tuesday.
The previously unreported investigation comes after another controversial incident involving Newman’s behavior at a July traffic stop that started as a speeding violation and resulted in the arrest of the car’s passenger.
The January incident that the GBI is focusing on began after Newman pulled over a Camden County woman for running a stop sign in Kingsland. It escalated when the driver refused Newman’s order to get out of her car, according to body and dash camera footage. After a struggle over the driver’s side door, Newman pulled the woman from the car, handcuffed her, and struck her in the face twice, according to the footage. The police camera then shows the deputy grabbing the driver’s hair and ramming her head into the bumper of a police cruiser.
The Camden County chapter of the NAACP publicly released body camera and dash camera footage for both the January and July incidents. The group has called for Newman’s firing.
When asked by The Current about the GBI investigation, Capt. Larry Bruce with the Camden County Sheriff’s Office said Newman is on paid administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing.
“The sheriff wanted an unbiased outside agency to look at this video and to do an entire investigation of the happenings prior to Newman’s actions,” Bruce said. “That’s where we’re at now.”
In January, the sheriff’s office disciplined Newman for violating use-of-force rules during the stop and gave her two unpaid days of suspension and six months of probation, according to disciplinary documents.
Newman’s supervisor ordered that she receive training on use of force and officer safety, the documents said. Two months after that, Newman was honored as deputy of the month, according to a Facebook post.
At some point between the January and July incidents, the sheriff’s office made Newman a K9 officer.
‘Ended up being hit in the face’
Charis Faria, 46, of White Oak near Woodbine, is the woman Newman pulled over at the start of the year for running a stop sign. She faces pending charges for obstruction of law enforcement, driving on a suspended license, window tint violation and failure to stop at a stop sign, a jail listing showed.
Faria, who works for the City of Kingsland’s water department, said her father served for numerous years for the Tampa Police Department and she respects law enforcement officials. But her encounter with law enforcement in Camden County left her feeling scared of being pulled over again: “How do I know I’m not going to get somebody else on a bad day?” she said.
“The fear of (Newman) is tremendous for me still. Like anytime she could be next to me, behind me and I won’t know where she’s at,” Faria said. “Just feeling like at any moment in time, she can jump on me or beat me up again or put me in jail again.”
On Sunday morning on Jan. 16, Faria was driving towards the Shell gas station off of Highway 40 in Kingsland, when she drove past a stop sign.
Deputy Newman, who was nearby, quickly drove up behind Faria and flagged her down to stop, according to dash camera footage.
Newman collected Faria’s license and ran it through dispatch. She learned that Faria’s license was suspended out of Florida but not the reason why.
In an interview, Faria said she was aware of the license suspension at the time of the incident. She said she had moved from Florida to Georgia, was in the process of getting her Georgia license, and was arguing with Florida’s DMV over a reported lapse in insurance coverage.
Newman sat in her car and wrote Faria a ticket for the stop sign violation. She also had a conversation with a second deputy who had arrived on the scene in which she appeared to understand the parameters of the driver’s rights.
“She’s on private property at this point. I can’t make her get out of her car just to tell her she can’t drive it. I can’t make her really get out of her car, well, if I’m not arresting her,” Newman told her colleague about the driver.
Newman planned to tell Faria that she couldn’t drive on a suspended license “and give her the chance to get someone to get her and the vehicle since I was unable to allow her to drive due to her being suspended,” according to Newman’s report.
The body camera footage shows Newman approached and then asked Faria to step out of her car. When Faria asked why, the deputy said: “Because I want you to.”
Faria refused to come out without the deputy giving her a reason. She then asked to speak to a supervisor. In response, Newman began pulling at the driver’s door.
Newman walked away, called for backup, and then returned to Faria’s car, threatening to break her window if she didn’t come out, the video shows.
“Get out of the vehicle. I will break this window,” she said.
Newman got the door open and pulled Faria from the car to the ground face-first. Newman then jumped onto her back and wrapped her arms around Faria, the footage shows. Another deputy arrived and used a Taser on Faria twice.
The deputy and Newman got Faria in handcuffs. While walking Faria in handcuffs towards her sheriff’s vehicle, Newman cursed at her and struck Faria in the face twice, according to body and dash camera footage.
Newman then grabbed Faria by the hair and threw her headfirst into the bumper of a police car, the footage showed.
According to Newman’s report of the incident, Faria was resisting arrest by not complying with her directives.
“In my attempt to control the situation, she ended up being hit in the face and then forcefully put on the bumper of my patrol vehicle,” Newman wrote in her report.
Excessive force investigation
After the incident, Newman sat in her patrol car. Her body camera footage continued to record her emotional recounting of the incident.
She expressed surprise at how angry she had been.
“I don’t even know where that came from,” Newman said about her reaction. “She would not get out of the car.”
A 911 dispatcher who was with Newman for a ride-along during the incident, offered her reassurance.
“I think you did everything great. You didn’t shoot her,” the dispatcher told Newman, according to body camera footage.
Faria, meanwhile, had a different reaction. She said when Newman was bringing her head towards the car, all she could think was “oh my gosh, she is going to kill me.”
EMS arrived to treat Faria at the scene “with no injuries noted” and she refused treatment, according to Newman’s report. Deputies then took Faria to the Camden County Detention Center. She was booked at around 12:30 pm on Sunday. She remained there until Tuesday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, according to Faria.
Despite what Newman wrote in her report, Faria said in an interview that she sustained abrasions to the face from hitting the concrete and neck and back trauma from hitting the front of the car.
The emotional damage and fear of local law enforcement has been longer lasting, she said.
Faria says she now avoids driving through Kingsland and St. Marys. If her family wants to go out for dinner, they drive to Brunswick instead, she says.
Faria hopes for more training for the Camden County Sheriff’s deputies and for Newman to be fired due to her treatment.
The Camden County NAACP, which first amplified Faria’s story, said the GBI investigation is a good first step to instilling public confidence.
“We believe that the law should apply to everyone, even those that wear badges,” Timothy Bessent, branch president, said in a statement. “We will continue to expose and bring awareness to the culture of excessive force that has been uncovered in our local sheriff’s department.”