A Black U.S. Marine combat veteran says he’s traumatized after being wrongfully accused of groping a Georgia deputy on the butt then arrested by her husband, who happens to be the sheriff in Clinch County, Georgia.
A quick trip to a gas station for Darius Rice, 37, and his girlfriend Ashley Jackson, turned into a traumatic experience.
Around 10:30 the night of April 7, 2022, Rice says while inside a QuikTrip gas station in Stockbridge, about 21 miles south of Atlanta, he accidentally bumped into another woman, April Tinsley.
“I kind of got a habit of staring down as a US Marine, we always have to look for what’s on the ground, look for IEDs…I bumped into the woman, and I’m like aye, excuse me, it was nothing serious,” Rice said of the unintentional encounter.
It was in that moment, Tinsley, a Clinch County Sheriff’s Deputy herself, claimed Rice assaulted her according to a Henry County police incident report.
“She was like, I’m a private investigator and you’re under arrest for sexual assault, and I didn’t curse her out. I was just like, ‘Woman, get out of my face,’” Rice said of the accusation.
Tinsley is married to Clinch County Sheriff Stephen Tinsley, who was outside the gas station with the SUV the couple was using to transport a prisoner back to their south Georgia county. He was ready to arrest Rice over his wife’s claim she’d been violated.
“He was standing on the rail, and I see he had a badge, and I’m sitting there like, what y’all want and he was like, put your hands behind your back, you’re under arrest, and I was like for what, I had my hands up and he came over there, put me in handcuffs and slammed me and it kind of dazed me after that,” Rice said.
The arresting activity drew attention of gas station patrons who pulled out their cellphones to record what was happening.
A scuffle ensued between Deputy April Tinsley and Rice’s girlfriend, Ashely Jacksonm because Jackson was recording the incident on her phone.
Deputy Tinsley ordered Jackson to stop recording the encounter, and when Jackson refused Tinsley grabbed Jackson’s phone and threw it in the car she and Sheriff Tinsley were in which also contained the prisoner being transported in the backseat.
Cellphone video shows Deputy Tinsley trying to arrest Jackson and according to the incident report the arrest was for “allegedly grabbing Sheriff Stephen Tinsley.”
Rice says it wasn’t until two hours later that he fully understood what was going on because he says everything happened so fast.
“Two and a half hours later, I was in the back of a police car and I was staring and the sheriff and the wife behind the ambulance truck, and I can tell from her mannerisms she was trying to make it seem like I groped her like I grabbed her behind and I was like, ‘I hope she’s not trying to tell these people I did that,’” said Rice.
The responding Henry County police officer said in his report he also detained Deputy April Tinsley but, “was told by a superior officer to take Ms. Tinsley out of handcuffs, and that there would be no charges on Ms. Tinsley” although the report does not indicate who made that directive.
Sheriff Tinsley also asked for the Henry County Sheriff’s Office to respond to the scene, a request that was honored at the highest level when that department’s top official, Henry County Sheriff Reginald Scandrett, showed up at the gas station that night with a complement of deputies in tow. His department took over the case from the Henry County Police Department.
The initial responding officer’s report also says of the video from inside the store: “Although the video is somewhat blurry, the video showed what looked as if Mr. Darius accidentally bumped into Ms. Tinsley, and even showed what looked like Mr. Darius made an apologizing hand gesture. From what was seen in the video, it did not look as if Mr. Darius purposely or intentionally grabbed or groped Ms. Tinsley’s buttocks.”
Although Henry County Police responded to the incident, the Clinch County Sheriff asked for the Henry County Sheriff to take over the case. The Henry County Police Department Capt. Robert Lee told Atlanta Black Star, “It’s not uncommon for the Sheriff’s Office to take the lead on a call in which both departments respond to.”
Atlanta Black Star sought answers as to why the Henry County Sheriff’s Office took over the case that involves the Clinch County Sheriff, but the Henry County Sheriff’s Office did not answer that question directly for us. Henry County Commission Chairwoman Carlotta Harrel said she had no comment regarding the incident.
“In order to be charged with sexual battery in the state of Georgia, it has to be an intentional act,” said Harry Daniels, Rice’s attorney handling a wrongful arrest lawsuit filed over the incident.
“Obviously, we’re talking about violations, unlawful arrest, use of force, malicious prosecution, all of those are constitutional, Fourth Amendment, unlawful seizure, you’re talking about a First Amendment violation from Ashley, her phone getting stripped from her,” Daniels said.
Daniels says the wrongful arrest is affecting Rice’s ability to work and provide for his family of six children, adding to the lingering trauma and PTSD the incident has caused.
“Darius is a contractor that makes a large six-figure salary, and now he can’t go back to work because he’s under investigation for a sexual allegation where he can’t get his top-secret clearance,” Daniels said.
“I’ve been in multiple firefights in Afghanistan in 2009 in the Helmand Province ,and I’ve never been so scared as I was that night,” Rice said.
Atlanta Black Star sought comment from Clinch County Sheriff Stephen Tinsley, for the incident and while told the sheriff would call Atlanta Black Star to comment on the matter, no phone calls were received by the time this report was filed.
Daniels says the lawsuit is seeking monetary damages, but no dollar amount has been determined at this time.
“It’s nothing to hide on our end, I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Rice who went on to say, “I’m a man with morals, I’m a U.S. Marine, combat vet.”
“We’re going to fight for him, no stone unturned, no pebble unturned, any recourse we have, we’re going to fight. Filing lawsuit, pursuing criminal charges, whatever avenue it takes us, we’re going to fight for him and Ashley,” said Daniels who went on to say, “We’re just thankful today that Darius Rice is not a damn hashtag.”
Rice has yet to be arraigned on the charges, Daniels says.