VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL) — The City of Valdosta and the Valdosta Police Department are facing a lawsuit claiming excessive force was used in a Feb. 8 incident where the plaintiff was mistaken for a suspect in a panhandling investigation.
Attorney Nathaniel Haugabrook of Copeland, Haugabrook and Walker, filed the lawsuit on behalf of his client, 46-year-old Antonio Arnelo Smith.
Haugabrook said officers injured his client back in February 2020 and violated his rights after they mistook him for a suspect.
The lawsuit states the sergeant putting Smith in a bear hug and then detaining him was “unnecessary and illegal.” It states no reason existed to believe Smith committed a crime or was about to commit a crime, was armed or was a danger or threat.
Haugabrook contends Smith’s arm was broken during the interaction with the police and that Smith has had to endure physical therapy because of it.
In the body cam footage, Smith is crying and is pinned on the ground by three officers when an officer can be heard saying, "Yeah, it might be broke."
The lawsuit is seeking compensation and punitive damages in the amount of $700,000.
Monday, the city said it is reviewing the incident and posted body camera video along with a statement on social media.
The lawsuit was filed Friday afternoon in federal court and names Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson, members of the Valdosta City Council, Valdosta Police Chief Leslie Manahan, three Valdosta patrolmen and one police sergeant as defendants.
The suit states, “Defendants’ actions, omissions and deliberate indifference to violations of clearly established constitutional rights caused Mr. Smith to suffer physical, mental and emotional injuries.”
The lawsuit asserts the sergeant acted with malice and with reckless indifference.
The City Attorney has been served with a copy of the lawsuit, but according to the post, the city has, “not had time to review the document and therefore cannot comment on the content of the suit.”
The lawsuit also demands a jury trial.