Hall County Sheriff’s Office Issues Statement on Civil Lawsuit Settlement Regarding 2021 Arrest

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September 26, 2021 arrest of uncooperative woman

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) says that in the coming days, an announcement will be made about a settlement reached in a civil lawsuit where a citizen is being awarded $90,000 by Hall County. The lawsuit is regarding the woman’s arrest by Hall County Deputies on September 26, 2001.

Sheriff Gerald Couch stated that his office was not consulted on the settlement by county attorneys, and that the HCSO regrets not having the opportunity to defend their deputies in court.

In order to inform the public on what really happened on the day of the arrest, HCSO is making available a portion of the 39-minute body cam video. The video shows the initial contact with the arrestee until she is taken into custody. HCSO wants the public to note that prior to the arrestee being taken to the Hall County Jail, she was transported to the hospital to be evaluated for her complaints of illness.

Sheriff Couch acknowledges that releasing the video segment will open the door to critics, but he believes in being as transparent as possible without compromising the integrity of a case.

Warning: video contains strong language.

HCSO Statement on settlement in federal civil suit

“At least during my tenure, it has always been, without exception, the practice of Hall County Government attorneys to consult with me on any civil cases that involve Sheriff’s Office personnel, but that was not the case in this matter,” said Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch. “My understanding is the county attorneys felt a settlement would be more financially expedient, rather than allowing a jury to hear the accusations against our deputies. However, a settlement for any amount can give the inference of unlawful actions or deeds by our deputies, which is not the case in this incident.”

Deputies have a very difficult job and must often make decisions without the option of hindsight. In some instances, these actions result in civil actions being brought against the deputies and the Sheriff’s Office. This particular incident occurred during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and the plaintiff was refusing to allow her son, an established occupant, to enter the residence. This encounter involved a person claiming to have Covid-19 who hoped to infect HCSO deputies as well. The plaintiff was ultimately arrested for obstruction after she had opened her door for deputies.

“I should point out that all other allegations levied in the 11-count civil suit, which included false imprisonment, malicious arrest, malicious prosecution, battery and trespass, were deemed unfounded. The only allegation in question is whether the deputies arrested the plaintiff inside or outside the threshold of her home,” said Sheriff Couch. “The court determined ‘ambiguities’ in the body camera footage were enough for a jury to determine the threshold issue. Ultimately, the Sheriff’s Office was not given an opportunity to present the deputies’ side of the case in court as the County Attorney made an arbitrary decision to settle.”

When Sheriff’s Office personnel asked the County Attorney about the settlement decision, he explained it was an “economic decision” to settle the case without conceding any guilt or negligence. He also fully acknowledged his lack of judgement in not including Sheriff Couch in the decision-making process.

“Going forward, the County Attorney knows to consult me before settling any civil actions involving Sheriff’s Office personnel. In some rare cases, settling a civil matter may be the best course of action. I don’t believe that was appropriate for this case,” said Sheriff Couch. “That said, we will use this incident – and the outcome – as a learning opportunity across the agency.”

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