Years of racial epithets and threats from a neighbor forced a Gainesville family from their home recently, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Hall County Superior Court that tags city government as a defendant.
Defendants have 30 days to file a formal response.
Gregory and Sophia Bonds allege Roy Hubert Turner Jr. subjected their family, which includes three teenagers, to “racial slurs, verbal intimidation and threatened physical injury, including death, every time he encountered them.”
When approached at his home Friday, Turner declined to comment, saying only, “Travel on, sir.”
The family moved to a home off Cumberland Drive in February 2012. Turner, who lives next door, began taunting and threatening them from the beginning, according to the suit.
The suit claims the city is responsible because it failed to adequately address the situation, amounting to a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
“The city’s actual and constructive knowledge of Turner’s actions, many of which occurred while he was employed as a sanitation worker for the city, coupled with its failure to intercede on plaintiffs’ behalf after being informed about Turner’s actions, served to condone, adopt, ratify and facilitate Turner’s actions,” the suit states. “The city’s refusal to discipline Turner or take reasonable and appropriate remedial actions to prevent his unlawful conduct toward plaintiffs make (the city) jointly liable ...”
The suit seeks financial damages and a jury trial.
Sophia Bonds works in customer service at The Times. The family moved to Flowery Branch in June.
The family directed all inquiries to their attorney, Ashley Bell.
“This is a case that people in the community came to me about,” said Bell, a former Hall commissioner. “They were denied their constitutional right to live in peace. And they were denied their right to live and enjoy the dwelling of their choosing because of their race and ethnicity. And they’ve had to relocate.”
But the costs and inconvenience of moving, and the prospect of having to pull the children out of their schools and away from their friends, have been distressing to the family.
“They think that Flowery Branch is a safer place for them,” Bell said.
A neighbor who spoke to The Times but declined to be identified for fear of retaliation said an incident happened shortly before the family moved away that the neighbor said was shocking and appalling.
Turner allegedly approached members of the family and their friends with a baseball bat, lobbing threats and slurs, according to the neighbor. An account of the incident is included in the lawsuit.
Turner is alleged to have repeatedly shouted the “n-word” at the Bonds family, and more than once threatened to “send them to their maker.”
Bell said Turner would even harass the family while working as a trash collector for the city, making monkey noises and walking like an ape, “which is derogatory to African-Americans.”
Complaints to city officials “fell on deaf ears,” Bell said.
Bell said he believes Gainesville officials may never have reprimanded Turner because of his family ties to the Turner, Wood & Smith insurance firm, which provides employee benefits consulting and brokerage services to the city.
Joe Wood Jr., president and CEO of Turner, Wood & Smith, said he was stunned by such accusations, and said the Turner family has had no involvement with the firm since 1985.
“I know of no (improper) influence,” he said, adding that Friday was the first he had heard of the accusations.
Mayor Danny Dunagan said Turner retired from the city a few months ago, and that Turner’s alleged erratic behavior may stem from a car accident decades ago that left him in a coma for a short time.
“I’ve known him a long time and we were in school together,” Dunagan said. “He’s got some lasting effects, mentally, from that accident. He’s, as far as I know, not violent. He just gets a little carried away.”
Over three years, the Bonds family began to alter their daily activities to avoid encounters with Turner. They stopped inviting friends over and even erected a fence for additional privacy.
Gregory Bonds started sleeping with a knife, and Sophia Bonds began fearing for her life, according to the suit.
According to court transcripts, Turner pleaded no contest in May to a disorderly conduct charge after pointing a gun at the Bondses and lobbing racial epithets.
He received 12 months’ probation, is prohibited from consuming hard liquor or having weapons at home and was instructed to have no further violent or insulting interaction with the Bonds family.
“These neighbor things can be really tricky,” said Judge Larry Baldwin in court filings. “But they can really lead downhill in a hurry.”