Bradley County deputies, county sued for alleged excessive force [document]

Bradley County deputies, county sued for alleged excessive force [document]

Latest lawsuit says county failed to rein in Sheriff Eric Watson

April 25th, 2018 by Staff Report in Breaking News

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson speaks during the opening of the Brian K. Smith Inmate Workhouse on Thursday, July 27, in Cleveland, Tenn. The new inmate workhouse allows low-security inmates the opportunity to work in the community while still serving their time.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

This story was updated April 25, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.

A Bradley County resident who said two deputies manhandled and abused him in 2017 is suing them and the county for $1.5 million, alleging excessive force, malicious prosecution and civil rights violations.

Legal claims are par for the course in law enforcement, but this one has a twist.

Plaintiff Gary Lee Parker claims the county government's failure to take action against Sheriff Eric Watson on multiple allegations of wrongdoing essentially means its "official policy" is to ignore misconduct.

Document: Parker lawsuit

Read Gary Lee Parker's lawsuit against two Bradley County Sheriff's Office deputies and Bradley County.

His lawsuit claims that this "deliberate indifference" led to his being hurt and suffering pain, anguish and humiliation. Parker is asking for $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg said Wednesday afternoon she had not seen the complaint.

This is the second lawsuit filed against Bradley law enforcement in a week and around the 27th since Sheriff Eric Watson took office in September 2014.

The facts are straightforward, the lawsuit states. Parker claims he was doing a controlled burn on Aug. 4, 2017, on his property on Mitchell Road SE when county firefighters showed up, demanding to come inside his fence and spray water on the fire. Parker refused and went to get a chain to lock his gate.

When he got back, deputies Carlton Walls and Bo Collins were there and Walls demanded Parker speak to him. Parker refused, and after some back-and-forth that included a threat by Walls to cite Parker for illegal burning, the deputies came over the fence, the suit states.

They ordered Parker to get off his four-wheeler and show identification, but he told him they were trespassing and ordered them to leave. At that point, Walls and Collins, "without any justification," grabbed Parker, cuffed him tightly and dragged him up by his arms. Walls questioned him and jerked up on his cuffed arms, hurting him, until he answered, the suit states, while Collins did nothing to stop the abuse. While this was going on, the deputies let the firemen in to spray the fire, the suit states.

Parker said he was cited for an "unattended fire," and that the citation was dismissed in December 2017.

Parker went to the Bradley County Sheriff's Office on Aug. 8 to file a complaint against Walls and Collins. He was directed to "Captain Botts," who said his complaint wouldn't be looked into until after the charge against him was resolved.

"As of the time of this complaint, there has been no action taken by the county or anyone from the sheriff's office to respond to or to resolve the Plaintiff's complaint," the suit states.

The statement of facts takes up about four and a half pages. Three more pages detail allegations against Watson, Walls and Botts and the fact that county government never acted to curtail wrongdoing.

In Watson's case, those include a dozen felony charges related to fraudulent car titles and other allegations detailed in multiple Times Free Press stories.

"Captain Botts" is Arnold Botts, whom Watson hired as director of administration when he took office. The lawsuit recounts Botts' 1991 resignation as Cleveland, Tenn., police chief in 1991, when he was under investigation for sexual misconduct in office. Botts resigned and signed an agreement saying he would forever stay out of law enforcement.

The lawsuit notes that Walls was fired from the Cleveland Police Department in October 2015 "for his role in an alleged rape of a woman and his extramarital affair with the same woman while on police duty."

The suit claims Walls and Collins acted under color of law, and that the county is responsible for the proper operation of the sheriff's office.

"The County's failure to take action in response to the indictment of Watson; Watson's conflicts of interests with his wife; Watson's actions in Murray County, Georgia; Watson's unlawful retaliation against inmates in his care for 'gossiping' about Tenille Watson; Watson's record of lawsuits during his tenure as sheriff; Watson's hiring of Botts and Walls despite their well-documented history of misconduct, constituted a custom or practice that carried the force of official policy and was the motivator behind the actions of Walls and Collins," the suit states.

"This failure of the County created an example that no matter the level or seriousness of misconduct, that any claim against an agent of the County would not be punished or addressed," it states.

Parker is suing the deputies in their official and individual capacities under federal civil rights law for excessive force; seizure without probable cause and violation of Miranda rights. He says his due process rights were violated by malicious prosecution; and failure to prevent harm or protect him from danger created by the deputies. He alleges the same misconduct by the county.

The suit cites multiple counts under Tennessee law against the county and the deputies, including assault, battery, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and malicious prosecution.

Parker is represented by Chattanooga attorney Robin Flores, who filed the suit Wednesday in Bradley County Circuit Court.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.


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