Suit Against City Settled for $135,200

The Daily Sentinel of Scottsboro

A $6 million federal lawsuit filed against the City of Scottsboro and two police officers was settled out of court Thursday morning, just as the case was about to go to trial.

According to the attorneys involved, the six plaintiffs settled the case for $135,200, of which just over $48,000 will go toward attorneys’ fees and expenses.

The suit was filed by Chris Jones, a Scottsboro businessman, who claimed in the legal complaint that Scottsboro Police Chief Keith Smith, Investigator Ralph Dawe, and “a horde of armed uniformed policemen” came into his used car dealership in July, 1992, with a search warrant, looking for illegal drugs. Jones said the police officers strip-searched him, along with his wife and 15-year-old son, and three customers, but failed to find anything illegal.

The suit maintained that “the strip search…was conducted without probable cause or reason to believe that any contraband, dangerous materials or incriminating objects or weapons would be found and thereby an unreasonable search and seizure… and the strip search constituted a gross invasion of the rights of the plaintiff to privacy and due process…”

Scottsboro city attorney Stephen Kennamer said that “the reasonableness of the search in time and manner was the legal issue for the federal court to decide.”

In the suit, Jones and the other five people involved asked for $1 million apiece, for a total of $6 million, from Smith, Dawe, and the city. The case was scheduled to be tried in federal court Thursday morning, and a jury was selected on Monday.

Jones said the city attempted all day Monday to reach a settlement. “They offered $45,000, then $60,000, $90,000, and $120,000. I told them. “Quit wasting my time – I’m ready for my trial.”

He said that on Thursday morning, as the trial was scheduled to begin, the city’s attorneys made the offer that he and the others accepted.

Kennamer said that the city settled the suit on the advice of its attorneys, Julian Butler of Huntsville and Bently Owens of Birmingham.

Jones said that he and his wife each received $19,500 in the settlement, and that their son and the three other plaintiffs each received $12,000 and that the attorneys received $48,200 for their fees and expenses.

“The money was not the main issue here,” Jones said. The most important thing was to show certain officers that if they wear a badge, it does not give them the right to violate the rights guaranteed in the constitution.”

Jones said he felt that, by settling the case, the city was admitting that the police were in the wrong. “My opinion is that they didn’t want everything brought out in court,” he said, adding that he felt the search was part of an ongoing campaign of harassment against him.

One of the attorneys for the six plaintiffs said he considered the settlement to be a win. “We are pleased anytime we recover that much money from a city.” said Allen Brinkley. “Obviously it was not a nuisance suit, if the city agreed to settle for that amount. Hopefully this will make the police a little more careful.”

When asked about the settlement Smith said, “I would love to say something, but under the advice of our attorneys I’m unable to make any comments about the case.”

Neither of the two attorneys representing the city were available for comment at presstime.

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