Man claims beating in recapture

A man who was absent without leave from a Savannah work release program for a month is claiming that correctional officials beat him up when they tracked him down in Augusta.

A state Department of Corrections spokeswoman said John Charles Horn Jr. was arrested without incident last week, but could not comment on a prisoner's medical condition. Mr. Horn is at Augusta Medical Prison, and according to his family, was battered by several men in plain clothes who jumped out of an unmarked car.

The alleged incident has Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength perplexed about why the correction department's fugitive squad did not alert his office that it planned to make an arrest in his county, a standard courtesy among law enforcement.

Mr. Horn's wife, Theresa Thurmond, said the incident happened around 10 p.m. Dec. 16. They were in her car not far from her south Augusta home when a vehicle tried to run them off the road, she said. They panicked and tried to get away but stopped when one of the vehicles displayed blue lights. Ms. Thurmond said her husband immediately pulled over and both held up their hands.

"I was on the ground with a foot on my back so I couldn't see (Mr. Horn) but I know they were beating him because I could hear him hollering," she said.

When she next saw him three days later at the Augusta Medical Prison , his face was battered and bruised, as were the sides of his head, she said, and one eye was swollen shut. Mr. Horn said his chest and sides were also bruised and cut, Ms. Thurmond said.

While she was visiting, Ms. Thurmond said the warden made a point to come into the room and proclaim that no one at the prison had caused the injuries.

"I told him I knew that because I was with him when it happened," Ms. Thurmond said.

Kristen Stancil, a Corrections department spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the fugitive squad was composed of corrections officers and the Savannah Police Department.

Mr. Horn was wanted because he failed to return from his job Nov. 13. Mr. Horn was in a work release program at the Coastal Transition Center in Savannah, serving a 15-year prison sentence he received in August 1996 for burglary.

Ms. Thurmond said the family knows Mr. Horn was wrong to walk away from the transitional center, but that did not justify the beating.

Sheriff Strength said it is customary for law enforcement officers to alert local officers if they need to enter another county. It is certainly his office's policy, and he would like to know why his department wasn't informed before Mr. Horn's arrest, he said.

Although the holiday week schedule made it impossible to check with every officer, Sheriff Strength said he couldn't find anyone who was told ahead of time that a team was coming to make an arrest, he said.

Certified law enforcement officers have statewide arrest powers, but Sheriff Strength said his policy is to always alert and ask the local office to participate in any action his officers need to take in another county.

It could make for a dangerous situation for armed officers in plain clothes to make arrests in another county without advance warning, Sheriff Strength said.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com