A Sequatchie County, Tennessee, man has filed a $3 million federal lawsuit against Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie county governments, a sheriff and other law enforcement officers in the counties claiming they used excessive force and violated his civil rights when authorities raided his home in October 2019.
Willard J. King, the plaintiff, describes officers' actions in serving a search warrant at his home on Oct. 3, 2019, as an "attack" in front of his granddaughter and her baby daughter during what the suit calls a "false arrest" that left King with emotional distress, "horrific," permanent injuries and violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments, according to a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga.
The suit was transferred from state court in Sequatchie County to federal court on March 17, according to officials and court records.
King's suit names Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie county governments; Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett; Marion County officers Brian Davis, Justin Graham, Paige Durham and Matt Blansett; Andrew Voss of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office; and Jody Lockhart and Jacob Kilgore of the Sequatchie County Sheriff's Office, court records state.
King is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages, along with unspecified damages for medical and legal expenses, loss of future earnings, enjoyment of life and pain and suffering.
"[W]e do not believe the allegations of the plaintiff in this case have merit regarding any wrongdoing on the part of our deputy or on the part of the county," R. Dee Hobbs, the attorney for Hamilton County, said in an email on Tuesday. Hobbs said an answer denying all counts will be filed in the case.
The attorney for defendants in Marion County, Thomas E. LeQuire, did not immediately respond to a request for comment while the attorney for defendants in Sequatchie County, Alix Michel, declined to comment on the case. Defendants in the case have 21 days from the filing date of the suit to file a formal answer to the allegations contained in it, according to court rules. That would be around April 7.
In the suit filed March 17 by King's lawyer, Chattanooga attorney Roger Dereck Layne, King contends he was "unlawfully seized and detained against his will" while officers were "executing a broadly granted search warrant that did not define any area or residence" to be searched, the suit states. Officers "recklessly used excessive force in order to cause [King] injury, including dragging his bloodied body by his feet outside of the residence," the suit states. King contends he "was not acting with harm" toward officers or anyone else.
Bethel Heights Petition
The conduct of the participating officers "was unjustified, unreasonable and grossly disproportionate to the actions of [King], if any, and was deliberately indifferent to the substantive due process liberty interests" of King, violating his Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires warrants to properly identify the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized, while the Fourteenth Amendment speaks, in part, to equal protection of all Americans from government action without due process of law.
A criminal case related to King's arrest that day is still pending in Sequatchie County, according to court officials.
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.