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Nancy Mason

Hamilton County commissioners have agreed to pay about $40,000 to a 62-year-old woman who broke her wrist after a corrections deputy shot her with a stun gun during an argument inside the jail.

Nancy Mason was arrested in March 2015 and charged with stealing $553 in merchandise from the Hamilton Place JCPenney. She cooperated with officers when she first entered the Hamilton County Jail, records show.

Then Sgt. Rodney Terrell, of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, asked for her earrings, and Mason refused to hand them over. When she said she would report him, Terrell unholstered his stun gun and shot Mason without warning, according to the $1.75 million lawsuit that attorney Robin Flores filed in Circuit Court in February.

The lawsuit listed the county, the city of Chattanooga and six law enforcement officers between the Chattanooga Police Department and the sheriff's office, Flores said. After a handful of discussions among everyone's attorneys, Hamilton County commissioners voted 8-0 Wednesday to approve a settlement that awards Mason $25,000 and agrees to pay her outstanding medical bills — about $40,000 all told, Flores said.

"It was good of the county to go to meditation," he said. "Sometimes governments won't. But I think they were being very fair in this case."

Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor could not be reached for comment. Neither could attorneys R. Dee Hobbs, who represented several of the officers, and Scott Bennett, who represented Terrell.

Early on, Flores said, he turned his attention toward the five county deputies because of strong video evidence. He dismissed Greg Tate, the police officer who arrested Mason, because it was unclear whether she was still in his custody once they got to the jail, Flores said. As a result, the city slid off the lawsuit, too.

An interview with a former magistrate judge helped inform that decision, Flores said. Typically housed in a jail, a magistrate is the first judicial official to weigh the evidence against a defendant and set a bond.

A city police officer usually comes in and starts to fill out paperwork for the magistrate, Flores said. Meanwhile, the county deputies inside the jail are tasked with taking people's possessions for safekeeping.

In this case, Tate and Mason no longer had "a special relationship" once he handed her over to county deputies, Flores said.

Flores pushed another argument in his lawsuit: "The county created this environment where officers on the street and officers in the jail felt like they wouldn't be punished, or wouldn't be fired."

Part of the county's counterargument, Flores said, was that no written policy ever drove Terrell's conduct.

In February, Matt Lea, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said all five deputies were employed in the Corrections Division. According to the lawsuit, the sheriff's office issued a report saying the deputies had no "malicious intent," but needed more training and another review of policy.

At the police department, there was never an internal investigation for Tate because he never fired a stun gun at Mason and followed proper procedure during her arrest, then-department spokesman Kyle Miller said.

Ultimately, Mason pleaded guilty to the theft charge and was ordered to serve six months of house arrest, court records show.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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