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Hall sheriff dismissed from Taser lawsuit
Litigation still pending in 2006 incident at Flowery Branch High
Paige Chandler

A judge has dismissed Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic from a federal lawsuit filed over a May 2006 incident in which a deputy used an electrified Taser against a Flowery Branch High School student.

Three Hall County deputies remain defendants in the lawsuit filed by Paige Chandler in U.S. District Court. Chandler was 17 when she became involved in a fight with a male student at the school.

Her lawsuit alleges that Hall County Deputy and School Resource Officer Jeffrey Hooper fired a Taser twice into her back while she was "very upset" and walking to a guidance counselor’s office after the fight. Other court documents claim that Chandler ignored commands to stop.

Chandler, who pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the fight, claimed that her civil rights were violated due to excessive force, illegal detainment and unreasonable search and seizure. The lawsuit was filed in July 2008.

The suit also claimed negligent infliction of emotional distress, alleging Chandler endured nightmares and anxiety months after the incident.

Hall County Sheriff’s Deputies Ron Dobbins and Amanda Norman are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that after the Taser was used, deputies unsuccessfully tried to remove the Taser prongs from Chandler’s back and that they refused to allow Chandler’s family to see her at the school.

The deputies also insisted on taking Chandler to the hospital in a sheriff’s car instead of an ambulance, and the prongs were not removed until nearly two hours after the incident, according to the lawsuit. Chandler was held overnight in the Hall County jail without bail.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story ruled on several defense motions, writing that Dobbins and Norman are entitled to "qualified immunity" from most of the lawsuit’s claims.

Qualified immunity gives protection for government officials sued as individuals if their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights and if they are acting within the scope of discretionary authority.

Dobbins and Norman still face claims of false imprisonment in the lawsuit.

Cronic’s motion to be dismissed from the suit was granted by the judge.

Story wrote that for the sheriff to be held liable, the plaintiffs would have to show a history of widespread abuse, policies established by the department that resulted in deliberate indifference to constitutional rights, that a supervisor directed subordinates to act unlawfully, or that a supervisor knew subordinates would act unlawfully and did nothing to stop them.

Story wrote in his order that the attorneys for Chandler "fail(ed) to assert any factual allegations that would support Defendant Cronic’s liability under (civil rights law) or the state law causes of action."

Hooper, the deputy who fired the Taser, still faces all of the original claims and was not granted qualified immunity.

Story wrote that he could not "determine at this time whether Defendant Hooper’s use of a Taser amounted to unlawful and excessive contact" or whether its use was "proportionate to the need for force under the totality of the circumstances."

The judge wrote that he could not conclude from the information filed in court so far whether Hooper had probable cause to arrest Chandler.

The discovery process, in which information about the case is shared between the two sides, is still ongoing. Story had limited information on which to base his rulings and will likely be asked to rule again in what is known as summary judgment before the case goes to trial, should it get that far.

It’s possible the judge could either make a finding against the defendants, throw out some or all the plaintiff’s claims or rule that a determination should be left up to a jury.

Chandler’s attorneys, Will Adams and Diane LaRoss, did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment Thursday.

Hall County Sheriff’s spokesman Col. Jeff Strickland referred questions to the attorneys representing the sheriff’s office.

Dana Maine, an attorney representing the deputies for Hall County, said in a statement, "We expect all members of the Hall County Sheriff’s Department to be fully vindicated."

Last week, Maine filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider his ruling.