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Georgia deputy takes down a suspected car thief, now he’s facing an investigation and lawsuit


Henri Hollis
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nearly a year after a Paulding County man was injured when he was slammed to the ground by a sheriff’s deputy, video of the incident shared anonymously has ratcheted up the stakes surrounding the case.

The legal team for Tyler Canaris, a landscaper from Dallas who was injured while being detained by a sheriff’s deputy, announced Monday that it plans to file a civil rights suit against the county. Attorney Shean Williams also called for the immediate termination of Paulding deputy Michael McMaster, who can be seen throwing Canaris to the ground in video footage taken from his patrol car’s dashboard camera that was recently shared with the public.

Williams said Canaris retained his law firm, the Cochran Firm, about a week after the March 2022 incident, but movement on the case had been minimal due to the sheriff’s office blocking multiple requests for details made under the Freedom of Information Act. In recent months, the sheriff’s office charged Canaris with obstruction, which allowed his criminal defense lawyers to force the sheriff’s office to share the video and documents showing that McMaster had a history of aggressiveness and anger management issues.

This month, the video footage was released on YouTube, leading to a public outcry. (The legal team insisted Monday it did not post the video.) In response, the sheriff’s office asked the GBI to open an independent investigation into McMaster’s use of force.

The incident took place around 6 a.m. on March 4, 2022, according to the sheriff’s office. McMaster responded to a report of a suspicious person wearing a hoodie and a backpack who was seen trying to break into a car in the Evans Mill neighborhood.

When McMaster arrived, he saw Canaris walking along the road near the entrance of Evans Mill and wearing a hoodie and a backpack. McMaster approached Canaris and attempted to detain him, as can be seen in the dashcam video.

“You’re being detained, man,” McMaster says to Canaris in the video, as Canaris raises his palms in confusion.

“Excuse me? What am I doing?” Canaris asks.

As the interaction continues, McMaster gains control of Canaris’ wrist and moves him to the front of the patrol car. McMaster repeatedly tells Canaris to comply “before you end up on the ground.”

The sheriff’s office said Canaris “repeatedly refused to comply with the deputy’s commands to remove his backpack and place his hands behind his back.”

As Canaris continues to protest, McMaster grabs him by the waist and lifts him backward, throwing him to the ground. The force of the maneuver broke Canaris’ collarbone and fractured his skull.

In Canaris’ civil rights suit, attorney Sam Starks said they would claim damages related to the effect of those injuries on Canaris’ physical ability to do his job.

“I can’t pull things or lift things like I used to,” Canaris said Monday.

Canaris’ criminal defense attorney, Torris Butterfield, said the obstruction charge should be dismissed.

“When this officer ran up to Tyler and placed his hand behind his back, he effectively made an arrest because Tyler was not free to go,” Butterfield said. “There was no probable cause to stop Tyler. There was nothing to suggest that Tyler had committed any crime whatsoever.”

Butterfield explained that under Georgia law, citizens have the right to resist an unlawful arrest.

“He never did anything to resist this officer but, even if he did, he would have been justified in this particular case,” Butterfield said.

McMaster has been taken off patrol and placed on desk duty. The GBI confirmed Monday that it had begun an independent investigation at the request of the Paulding sheriff’s office.

“By state law, the GBI can only initiate this type of investigation after a request from local law enforcement,” the GBI said.

Canaris’ lawyers described the GBI investigation as a fact-finding venture and noted that the state agency would not make a recommendation about whether McMaster should face criminal charges. Once that investigation is complete, the results will be turned over to the Paulding district attorney, who will decide whether to bring charges.

The legal team also questioned why the obstruction charge had been filed against Canaris eight months after the incident, and why the sheriff’s office and county solicitor had not brought charges against McMaster after their own investigation.

“As part of (Paulding County’s) policy and procedure, they are required to review the use of force incident for any deputy. Somebody in Paulding County’s administration and supervisors looked at this video and, in their own file, they say this use of force was appropriate,” Williams said. “They failed.”

“Then the prosecutors failed (Canaris) by prosecuting him and charging him with a crime he didn’t commit,” Williams continued.

As a result, Williams said his team would be sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate if the Paulding sheriff’s office and solicitor’s office were involved in “covering up” McMaster’s alleged assault of Canaris.

Canaris’ legal team claimed that county officials knew McMaster, who was hired as a jailer in 2014 and became a deputy the next year, had a history of aggressive behavior. They shared documentation from McMaster’s personnel file in which one of the deputy’s former supervisors at the jail wrote that they “recognized that Deputy McMaster can be unnecessarily overly aggressive in handling situations that arise in the detention center.”

McMaster’s former supervisor reviewed his file after the sheriff’s office received a tip about the deputy’s behavior in 2015. A man who worked with McMaster’s wife at a veterinary hospital in Hiram claimed the deputy had made threats to “beat his (expletive).”

A manager from the animal hospital later wrote to the sheriff’s office to ask that the investigation be dropped because the former co-worker had been asked not to contact McMaster or his wife.

Neither the Paulding sheriff’s office nor the solicitor’s office has issued a public response to Canaris’ legal team.

©2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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