Gwin­nett County set­tles taser death suit

Law­suit ends in $100,000 pay­out to vic­tim’s fam­ily

The Covington News - - LOCAL NEWS -

LAWRENCEVILLE — Three Gwin­nett County of­fi­cials qui­etly set­tled a Taser-re­lated wrong­ful-death law­suit by pay­ing $100,000 to a vic­tim’s fam­ily with­out a pub­lic vote or dis­cus­sion.

The set­tle­ment, ob­tained this week by The At­lanta Jour­nalCon­sti­tu­tion through open­records laws, says the county barred the vic­tim’s fam­ily and lawyers from telling the pub­lic or news me­dia about the pay­out or even that a set­tle­ment hap­pened.

The set­tle­ment ended a wrong­ful-death suit brought by the fam­ily of Ray Charles Austin, who died in Septem­ber 2003 af­ter be­ing shocked re­peat­edly with a Taser at the Gwin­nett County Jail.

Austin, 25, had been in a fight in which he bit off part of a deputy’s ear.

In De­cem­ber, county of­fi­cials agreed to pay Austin’s fam­ily $100,000 to dis­miss the law­suit. Ac­cord­ing to the set­tle­ment pa­pers, the only pub­lic state­ment that could be made about the deal was that “the case has been re­solved to the sat­is­fac­tion of all par­ties.”

County at­tor­ney Karen Thomas said the nondis­clo­sure lan­guage is typ­i­cal.

But Hol­lie Man­heimer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ge­or­gia First Amend­ment Foun­da­tion, ques­tioned the se­cret na­ture of spend­ing pub­lic money.

“De­ci­sions have to be made in pub­lic,” she said.

Of­fi­cials say a Gwin­nett County or­di­nance al­lows set­tle­ments of $100,000 or less to be de­cided by the county at­tor­ney, county ad­min­is­tra­tor and county risk man­ager, as long as the chair­man, an elected of­fi­cial, ap­proves.

A sep­a­rate Gwin­nett Coun- ty law­suit is still pend­ing over the 2004 Taser-re­lated death of Fred­er­ick Wil­liams.

Last month an­other man, Car­los Ro­driguez, died af­ter be­ing shocked with a Taser. No suit has been filed in that case, but the vic­tim’s fam­ily re­cently was on television ask­ing for a lawyer.

Gwin­nett Sher­iff Butch Con­way said he agreed such set­tle­ments should be han­dled dis­creetly, say­ing it could save money.

“I think it is to the ben­e­fit of tax­pay­ers to do it that way,” said Con­way. “If the county ad­ver­tises that they set­tled a case, it will in­vite more peo­ple to sue.”

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