Sullivan to make offer to settle lawsuit over arrest attempt that destroyed mobile home

J. H. Osborne • Dec 4, 2012 at 9:49 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County will offer $85,000 in an attempt to settle a $1.5 million lawsuit against the county, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, and sheriff’s office employees.

The Sullivan County Commission’s Executive Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to give County Attorney Dan Street the OK to make the offer.

Street said once the county makes such an official offer of judgment, the plaintiffs may accept or reject the offer — or make a counter offer.

If they reject the $85,000 federal rules dictate that if the plaintiffs ultimately are awarded less than that amount they cannot receive additional money for lawyers fees.

“If they don’t receive that much or more, they don’t get attorney’s fees,” Street told reporters after meeting behind closed doors to discuss the issue with the Executive Committee. Tennessee’s Open Meetings Law allows elected officials such as the Commission’s Executive Committee to meet in private with its attorney to discuss ongoing lawsuits. Any action, however, must be conducted in public — so the Executive Committee’s vote to OK the $85,000 settlement offer took place after the public and reporters were allowed back in the room.

Margaret Spradlin and her daughter, Shirley Brewer, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville on April 16 naming Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson, 14 of his deputies, Sullivan County and the sheriff’s department as defendants. Spradlin and Brewer are seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.

The lawsuit stems from an incident that took place at their trailer on April 27, 2011, when law enforcement officials converged on their home looking for Junior Spradlin — Margaret Spradlin’s son — who was wanted for murder in Virginia.

Efforts to resolve the lawsuit through mediation were not successful. Both sides will meet in court in Blountville mid-month for a scheduling hearing.

If the lawsuit does make it to court, the case will be heard in federal court in Greeneville.

According to the lawsuit, law enforcement officials had located, attempted to arrest and eventually chased Junior Spradlin to the Ellis Road trailer. Authorities surrounded the home and used a Hazardous Device Unit’s robot to broadcast commands to the women in the trailer.

Margaret Spradlin and Brewer claim when they exited the trailer, both were thrust to the ground and eventually arrested and put into a deputy’s cruiser and held for approximately eight hours.

During the standoff, the two women claim 15 cans of tear gas were thrown into their trailer under the orders of Anderson with the belief that Junior Spradlin was inside.

The Spradlin trailer caught fire and burned.

“(They) lost their home and all their belongings, except for the clothes on their back,” the lawsuit states.

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