A Florida couple arrested in Dawson County last year during a child custody dispute is seeking a $1 million settlement from the sheriffs office after the criminal charges against them were dropped.
Lindsay Rebecca Pippin, 29, and Matthew Pippin, 41, were charged in April 2014 with interference with custody-interstate, after the couple picked up their 5-year-old daughter in Dawsonville and crossed state lines into Florida.
At the time, Susan Jill Chamberlain had a temporary guardianship agreement signed Jan. 17, 2013, by Dawson County Probate Judge Jennifer Burt. The agreement appointed Chamberlain as the childs legal guardian.
Although there was probably cause for defendants arrest, the state cannot prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, according to a statement of dismissal filed in Dawson County Superior Court, Aug. 13, 2014, by District Attorney Lee Darragh. While the probate court of Dawson County did grant temporary guardianship of the defendants child to a third party, (it) did not divest defendants of lawful custody of the child.
Additionally, defendants and Susan Chamberlain reached a civil settlement, following the incident in this case, which further confirmed defendants retained lawful custody on the date of the incident.
In a letter sent April 9 to the Dawson Board of Commissioners and the sheriffs office, Snellville-based Attorney Michael Puglise said the couple suffered emotionally, physically, and mentally from the violations of their civil rights due to the actions of Dawson County Sheriffs Department.
Puglise also stated the arrest was done purposefully, intentionally, and was malicious in nature without legal authority.
Arrest warrants were sworn out by Dawson County Investigator Christopher Carpenter and signed off by Magistrate Judge Lisa Thurmond, on April 9, 2014.
A sheriffs office incident report states the Pippins had a signed petition filed in Florida that showed they were trying to re-obtain custody of the child and provided a Florida officer with a notarized petition. The officer was asked by Dawson authorities to do a welfare check on the child.
Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle could not comment on pending litigation.
But County Attorney Joey Homans said the settlement claim has been turned over to the countys insurance carrier.
Our view is there is no liability, Homans said. Thats why we assigned it to our insurance company. They assign it to an adjustor or attorney and work with us to determine if there is a basis for the claim, and if so, whether it would be settled or defended if they file a lawsuit.
Dawson County pays an annual insurance premium of $150,521 (inclusive of a $27,000 dividend) for property and liability through ACCG (Association County Commissioners of Georgia).
Carlisle said child custody cases are difficult.
You dont see a lot of criminal charges in these cases, but sometimes you will, he said. We get a lot of calls. Youll have one set of court papers telling you one thing and another set telling you something else. A lot of times all we can do is keep the peace. Unless a judge has signed off on an order telling us we can go out and pick up a child, we cant. And you dont have to cross state lines to have interference of custody.