The Richmond Register

Local News

October 11, 2011

Federal suit against ex-sheriff, deputy dismissed

RICHMOND — A lawsuit alleging former Madison County deputy sheriff Scotty Anderson used excessive force and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon a Richmond man, and that former sheriff Nelson O’Donnell was negligent in supervising Anderson and retaining him as a deputy was dismissed by a federal judge in August.

Claims that O’Donnell was negligent by failing to ensure that Harris was properly trained also were dismissed by U.S. Senior Judge Karl S. Forester.

Sammy H. Harris of Richmond, then 63, filed suit in June 2010 claiming that Anderson used excessive when he used a Taser on Harris during an incident at the plaintiff’s home on July 31, 2009.

Harris, who suffers from degenerative spinal disease, has been unable to work since 1985 and uses canes and a motorized wheelchair for mobility, according to the plaintiff’s original filing. Also, Harris had undergone two heart surgeries in June and July 2009 in which he received five stints.

The events that prompted the lawsuit began on the morning of July 31, 2009, after Harris’ daughter, Sheri, who lived with him, told her father the taxi driver who brought her home the night before had taken her purse and cell phone.

Anderson responded to the Harris home after Harris called the taxi company and then the Richmond Police Department.

The version of events Harris presented in his suit and which O’Donnell and Anderson, a sergeant in the sheriff’s department, provided in sworn depositions differ greatly, the judge noted.

Harris claimed Anderson tackled and kneed him in the back of the head after accidentally propelling him from his wheelchair during a confrontation with Sheri Harris. The deputy then retrieved a Taser from his vehicle and fired it at Harris, the litigant alleged, although the manufacturer recommends the device

not be used against the elderly or disabled.

Harris also claimed Anderson forced Sheri Harris to the ground simply because she admitted to drinking the previous day.

Anderson claimed Sheri was staggering, became irate and began shoving him when he put out his arm to keep her from falling against him. The deputy then attempted to arrest her for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, he testified.

The deputy said the elder Harris joined the struggle, falling on Anderson’s back and attempting to pull his arms behind his back. Anderson said he held Harris off with one arm and fired the Taser from very close range. After falling to the ground, Harris got back in his wheelchair as Anderson called for back up.

Based on sovereign immunity, the doctrine that the state may not be sued without its consent, Anderson and O’Donnell both asked for summary judgment to dismiss charges that they had acted negligently in their official capacities.

Citing a landmark case, Forester ruled Harris would have to present evidence “on which a jury could reasonably find in his favor regarding the claim of official negligence.” A litigant must prove an official acted in bad faith to overcome the presumption of sovereign immunity, according to the judge.

Harris agreed his claims in this regard could not meet that standard, the judge wrote, dismissing those claims.

Forester also found that evidence presented by the defendants showed that Anderson was properly trained as a law enforcement officer and in the use of a Taser.

Harris did not counter O’Donnell’s argument for summary judgment on this point and the judge found in the former sheriff’s favor.

Although Anderson had a record of angry disagreements with co-workers and later was terminated from the sheriff’s department, the judge found no evidence that made him likely to use excessive force in the line of duty. The deputy also had no history of using excessive force, the judge found, and also dismissed that claim.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 624-6622.

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