UPDATE: HCSO Chief Deputy Tony Allen told the Times News Tuesday that the deputy named specifically in the lawsuit, Michael Martin, doesn't work patrol, is an SRO, and was not at the scene of the incident that is referenced in this federal lawsuit.
GREENEVILLE — A Greene County man who fled a suspected DUI traffic stop last year filed a $3.25 million federal lawsuit alleging he was severely beaten by Hawkins County deputies.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville by attorney Collins Shipley on behalf of the client, Gabriel Barnett.
It alleges that on April 12, 2020, Hawkins County deputies submerged Barnett’s face in a mud puddle and punched and stomped on him while he screamed, “I can’t (expletive) breathe.”
Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told the Times News on Monday his department will be exonerated from these allegations.
“Pending litigation, I can’t make any official comment on this lawsuit at this time except to say I reviewed the facts and my officers didn’t do anything wrong,” Lawson said. “They acted appropriately.”
In the late hours of April 12, 2020, Greeneville police attempted a suspected DUI traffic stop on a truck driven by Barnett on the Andrew Johnson Highway.
Shipley stated in the complaint that Barnett didn’t stop but never exceeded 65 mph. Shipley said Barnett mostly continued on at 50 mph on Highway 11-E, where the speed limit is 55 mph.
The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office joined the pursuit at the Hawkins County line and attempted a “rolling road block,” according to the lawsuit.
“Conditions were wet and dark, and Mr. Barnett lost control of his vehicle which went down a short embankment,” Shipley states in the lawsuit. “At this point Mr. Barnett was attempting to climb out of his wrecked truck when law enforcement rushed toward him and forcefully threw him on the ground.”
The lawsuit further alleges, “With his face submerged in a muddy puddle, multiple officers pounced onto his person. While one officer repeatedly stomped the back or Mr. Barnett’s neck, another officer delivered numerous punches to his face.”
Shipley states in the lawsuit he acquired deputy body camera video recordings of the incident.
According to the lawsuit, after Barnette exclaimed he can’t breath, a voice identified as HCSO Deputy Michael Martin is heard saying, “Are you trying to get your a — beat? ... I’m going to whoop your a--. ... That’s what you get when you run from the police, dumba--.”
Among the defendants named in the lawsuit are Hawkins County, Lawson, Martin, and “John and Jane Does 1-10 who are employees of the HCSO.”
The charges in the lawsuit are unlawful seizure and excessive force; federal civil rights violation; assault and battery; outrageous conduct/intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages in the amount of $750,000 and $2.5 million in punitive damages. There are no court dates scheduled as of yet.