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Defense responds in civil rights lawsuit filed against sheriff’s officials
DCSO building

An attorney has now responded to the multimillion-dollar lawsuit accusing several Dawson County Sheriff’s Office personnel of allegedly violating 18-year-old Jonathan Sanford’s civil rights after he was found deceased at the agency’s jail on June 2, 2020, following his arrest on a narcotics and DUI charge.

The plaintiffs' attorney and the legal firm for the defendants, Jarrard and Davis,  both had no comment about the lawsuit. Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson is named as a defendant, along with two jail supervisors and six other deputies.

Sanford et al vs. Johnson et al lawsuit response

The litigation, filed in Gainesville’s U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on the basis of the defendants allegedly violating the teen’s civil rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and state and federal law. It follows an independent investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which deemed Sanford’s death accidental, and one by the family’s attorneys. 

The defendants are accused of negligence, having or providing insufficient training to recognize and respond to medical emergencies and failing to enforce related policies.

Deputies allegedly ignored various signs of Sanford’s intoxication, such as slurred speech, swaying on his feet and profuse sweating. 

The deputy conducting Sanford’s traffic stop supposedly left blank answers on a required pre-booking form about whether the teen was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or had suicidal tendencies or any known medical conditions.  

Defense's response

In the June 17 filings, attorney Kenneth P. Robin of Jarrard and Davis began by asserting several underlying arguments including qualified and discretionary act immunity defenses. Essentially, the lawyer asserted that the defendants did not negligently perform any clearly dictated duty or violate any clearly established federal right but rather used reasonable judgment within the scope of their roles without the intent to cause injury or harm. The defendants, labeled singularly as ‘the defendant,’ breached no duty to the plaintiffs or to Sanford, who’s referred to as the decedent. 

The answer document also denied the defendants’ participation in circumstances that would allegedly violate Sanford’s rights and stated they “didn’t act with deliberate indifference to [the] decedent's medical needs.” It also stated there was not a “causal connection between any actions or omissions by the defendants and any constitutional deprivation.”

“While this Defendant denies that he engaged in any negligent acts or omissions with respect to Plaintiffs’ decedent, he asserts the defense that he may not be liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for acts or omissions which amount to mere negligence,” the answer stated.

The legal document went on to state that the DCSO personnel did not make, promote or enforce any policy or practice that would violate the Sanford’s state and federal rights or “rights premised on deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.”

It’s specifically denied that the plaintiffs’ description of DCSO Standard Operating Procedures, defendant Kirby or Lingerfelt’s emails, memo or forms speak for themselves in terms of “content, context, or meaning.”

The document stated that the plaintiffs’ claims for injuries and damages are barred in whole or in part since Sanford was “contributorily or comparatively negligent and/or assumed the risk of events alleged in the complaint” and his actions or activities which contributed “in whole or in part to Plaintiff’s alleged injuries and damages.”

“Plaintiffs’ decedent’s alleged injuries, damages, and death were directly and proximately caused by Plaintiffs’ decedent’s own acts or omissions and failure to exercise ordinary care,” the document stated. 

Therefore, the document reasoned that the defendants could not be held liable.

DCN will continue following this case.