Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Nichols Civil Suit

Posted by Maggie on February 29, 2008

Nichols hasn’t been the only one in hot water since the shootings in 2005. Several victims have sued the Fulton County Sheriff. There are a lot of potential reasons for liability. Nichols, a large young male, was monitored only by a female deputy, while preparing for court. His initial escape was due almost completely to his ability to overpower the single deputy. Then there’s the additional problem: two people were killed in a courtroom where court was actively in session. No deputy was present, even though it’s a state law requirement.

There was a hearing yesterday and it sounds like quite the circus. Six plaintiffs, nine defendants, and “more than two dozen attorneys.” The big issue was what kind of actions the Sheriff was using at the time. If their acts were discretionary, they’re shielded from liability, but not if they were ministerial.

To me, it seems pretty cut and dry despite defense’s arguments. If state law requires particular action, it’s tough classifying that as anything other than ministerial duty. They’ve tried to claim that any variations from required action are discretionary, but I agree with one plaintiff’s attorney who said that would make any action discretionary. They also state that their policies are discretionary (it says so right there in the handbook!) but again, I don’t think it’s an issue of nomenclature.

Looks like the Sheriff is going to end up shouldering the blame, though the Judge hasn’t ruled yet. And I think it’s proper. Courtroom security has certainly improved since Nichols, it’s helped to step up all over the country by giving that reality check. But it’s also pretty apparent that proper action by the Sheriff could have affected, if not completely averted, the outcome of this terrible crime.

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