Defendants in Taser lawsuit file response

Published 10:54 am Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CHESAPEAKE — County officials named in a high-profile Tasing incident have denied allegations made in a federal civil rights suit filed against them and state they are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity.

Two separate responses were filed the first part of November by attorneys for Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless, Deputy Charles Hammonds, Chesapeake Police Chief Dennis Gibson and the village of Chesapeake. Lawless and Hammonds are represented by Randall Lambert of Ironton; Gibson and the village have the firm of Surdyk, Dowd & Turner of Miamisburg as their lawyers.

In mid-August 2008, Anthony Patrick, a Huntington, W.Va.-based construction firm owner, and a juvenile were biking through Chesapeake. The juvenile, a nationally ranked racer and Patrick, an amateur cyclist, were on an endurance ride through Lawrence County before returning to Huntington, W.Va.

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As they came through Chesapeake, they contend they were stopped and Tasered by Hammonds and Gibson, who was a Chesapeake patrolman at the time. Now Gibson is the police chief for Chesapeake. The incident happened on County Road 1, near the Chesapeake library. Patrick’s account of the events was later published in “Bicycling,” a national monthly magazine, and on its Website

Patrick, then 37, was subsequently arrested and taken to the Lawrence County Jail, where he was charged with obstructing official business, resisting arrest, attempted assault on a police officer and operating a bike on the road.

He later was brought before Lawrence County Municipal Court where Judge Donald R. Capper granted Patrick’s motion that the officer had no probable cause for the arrest. Three months later, the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s office dismissed the case.

On Aug. 19, 2009, Patrick filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati against the three law enforcement officers and the village. Cincinnati-area based Steven Magas represents Patrick.

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages following what the documents filed in district court describe as “the illegal and intentional detention, attack, beating, arrest and Tasering of the plaintiff by defendants.”

The responses deny the suit’s allegations, including that Gibson and Hammonds “intentionally and maliciously deployed the Taser more than once after the plaintiff was incapacitated.”

Both defense attorneys invoke qualified immunity for their clients, a relatively recent defense concept, according to Darrell A. H. Miller, a law professor at the University of Cincinnati.

Miller recently spoke to The Tribune about qualified immunity that says, “officers are only liable, if they ‘violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’

“What would an objective police officer under these circumstances have thought. If the answer to that question is there is no reason for him to know that it is a constitutional violation, (that would be qualified immunity,)” the professor said.

Gibson’s attorney also contends “if plaintiff was injured or damaged, any and all such injury or damage was proximately caused by the sole negligence of plaintiff,” the response states.

Both responses request the court dismiss Patrick’s complaint.

Phone calls made to both defense attorneys were not returned by press time.