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Georgia Deputies Liable for Detaining and Stripping Man in Debt Judgment Execution

Georgia Deputies Liable for Detaining and Stripping Man in Debt Judgment Execution

by David Reutter

The Georgia Court of Appeals held in March 2014 that Fulton County sheriff’s deputies who detained a man to execute a debt judgment can be held liable for violating his rights.

Brooke Payne, the former manager of R&B group En Vogue, was in a dressing room with the group while they waited to perform at a concert in Atlanta in 2009 when there was a knock on the door. A group of deputies had arrived to execute a writ of fieri facias (fi. fa.) on Payne to satisfy a prior $300,000 judgment.

Deputies took Payne to another room and showed him the fi. fa., which he signed. They then inquired about his personal property. He produced a backpack and the deputies seized a camcorder, computer, clothing and a necklace.

“That was in the bounds of the law. They have the right to execute the fi. fa., but the limit is they can seize what is in his presence,” said Payne’s attorney, Herald Alexander. “But they go beyond that, they demand he tell them where he’s staying.”

Over Payne’s “vehement protests,” the deputies then put him in a sheriff’s car and drove him to his hotel, located a few miles away, so they could seize additional property.

As his attorney stood outside the hotel room, the deputies told Payne, “Take your clothes off. We want them and your shoes. If you don’t take ‘em off, we’ll take ‘em off of you,” Alexander said. “They took everything, right down to his drawers. There was sworn testimonies that the only reason they didn’t take his [underwear] was that the judgment creditor did not want them.” They also took a necklace Payne was wearing that had a small urn bearing his father’s ashes. It was never returned.

Payne filed suit in state court in 2011, naming as defendants Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson, Deputy Sgt. Clinton McCrory, Deputy A. Robinson and three “John Doe” deputies. The court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, and allowed the claims against the deputies and Jackson to proceed.

The deputies argued that Payne was never under arrest and had voluntarily accompanied them to the hotel. The Court of Appeals, however, found the evidence showed that “Payne made several requests that he be allowed to leave the hotel room and to speak with his attorney,” but the deputies detained him and would not let him leave or talk with his lawyer.

The appellate court held that this evidence, and the deputies’ incident report which “indicated Payne had been arrested at some point during the execution of the fi. fa.,” could allow a jury to conclude the deputies had “deliberately intended to do a wrongful act” by arresting Payne during execution of the fi. fa. and improperly detaining him.

“We are aware of no authority under which a law enforcement officer may detain or take a judgment debtor into custody during the execution of a fi. fa., absent exigent circumstances or probable cause to believe that the debtor had committed a crime,” the Court of Appeals wrote.

Therefore, the trial court was correct in allowing the claims against the deputies. The appellate court held that the claim against Jackson should be dismissed, however, as there was no evidence the sheriff had acted with malice or deliberate indifference to a known risk of harm with respect to his supervision and training of the deputies. The lower court’s order was thus affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case remanded. See: Jackson v. Payne, 326 Ga. App. 536, 757 S.E.2d 164 (Ga.Ct.App. 2014).


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Related legal case

Jackson v. Payne