By Leila Shearon, Staff Writer
In response to a March 2011 traffic stop, a Young Harris College student has filed a civil lawsuit accusing the Towns County Sheriff’s Department for violating his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution is intended to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. The 14th Amendment is intended to ensure due legal process and equal protection to all citizens with no discrimination.
The complaint accuses the defendants of “false imprisonment, battery and harassment” due to racial discrimination.
Jordan Brannon, a sophomore business and public policy major from Jacksonville, Fla., was pulled over the night of March 19, 2010 for a bogus drug charge while driving with friend Joanna Lee to her work at the Blairsville Waffle House. Brannon was pulled over by Towns County Lt. Curt Donaldson for traveling 15 mph under the 55 mph speed limit on Highway 76 West.
According to police records, Lt. Donaldson requested a K-9 unit to search for drugs after he claimed to smell an odor of marijuana inside the car. While Lee admitted to past marijuana use, the dog was unable to find the substance in the car and both were released without booking.
Brannon claims in his lawsuit that officers targeted him because of his being black and Lee being white. The suit claims that Towns County police have “a custom of stopping and detaining African-American drivers, particularly black men driving with white women.” The suit further claims officers repeatedly threatened to “put the dog on [Brannon]” and when learning he was a tennis player and not on the basketball team, an officer commented that, “He plays tennis, no shit!”
“It was demoralizing,” Brannon, a YHC police cadet, said. “It was the longest half-hour of my life.”
Brannon said that during the drug search the officers “cheered” the dog to sit down, a sign that a drug dog has found a substance. However, when the dog could not find anything the officers searched his pockets and person without his consent.
Brannon is represented by Gerald Webber and attorneys with the Goodmark Law Firm in Atlanta, which specialize in civil rights litigation. “Our first priority is not monetary gain, but awareness and change,” Webber said.
Brannon emphasized that this case was not about money, but that he feels there are “barriers in rural north Georgia…but, all black, Hispanics, whites and Asians, we’re all equal.” According to the suit, each officer is being sued individually because they “(1) were confronted with a fellow officer(s) illegal act(s), (2) possessed the power to prevent them and (3) choose not to act.”
Former Towns County K-9 Officer William “Billy” Shattles, a defendant in the case, showed remorse for the situation.
“I think that Brannon is doing the right thing with some of his lawsuit,” Shattles said. “He’s a good kid, and [I] hope all is well with him.”
Though Shattles responded to the request for the K-9 unit and searched the car according to protocol, he insinuated that this event was a breaking point, and after the incident Shattles resigned from Towns County Sheriff’s Department, stating he felt he was unable to do his job properly. The defendant’s attorney, Jason Waymire, stated that “we intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit and will leave it up the judicial system to properly adjudicate the claims.”
Waymire is an attorney with Williams, Morris and Waymire, who are representing the Towns County Sheriff’s Department.
Former Towns County Police Chief Jeff Edge, a spokesman for the Towns County Sheriff’s Department, stated the department had not been served with the lawsuit and was unable to comment, but that “the truth would come out.”
A spokesperson from YHC explained YHC does not comment on pending litigation, investigations, or personal matters related to the college or any of its faculty, staff or students. The civil action, case number 2:11-cv-00043, was filed in the United States District Court in Gainesville on Feb. 15, and has been assigned to Judge William C. O’ Kelley. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case on March 8, and Webber responded to this on Wednesday.