Como police chief pursues lawsuit against county 4/11/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 11, 2014

Como police chief pursues lawsuit against county

By John Howell
Attorneys for Panola County and for Como Police Chief Earl Burdette and assistant Chief Fay Pettis will meet Wednesday, April 16 with U. S. Magistrate Judge Allan Alexander to map the course of a lawsuit filed by the Como officers against Sheriff Dennis Darby and county deputies.
The civil lawsuit originated from a November, 2013 altercation that followed a shooting in Como.

Styled  “Earl Burdette and Cornelia Fay Pettis vs. Panola County, Mississippi, By and Through its Board of Supervisors; Panola County Sheriff Dennis Darby, in his Individual Capacity and John Does 1-10,” the complaint alleges that Darby and deputies “unlawfully restrained and imprisoned” Burdette and Pettis following the shooting incident. The lawsuit also alleges the “unlawful seizure and taken (sic) over of the Como … Police Station, … physical, emotional and mental injuries” to both plaintiffs and seeks a minimum of $2.5 million for actual damages and a minimum of $2.5 million for punitive damages, according to the complaint.

Attorney Edward J. Blackmon Jr. of Canton, representing the Como officers, seeks a trial by jury.
Panola County, through attorney Daniel Griffith of Cleveland, filed on Feb. 28 its response to the allegations in the complaint. The response cites provisions of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act that allow no claim “against a government entity or its employees” in an “exercise of discretion by sworn law enforcement officers;” for “failure to train, supervise or discipline law enforcement officers; or for “arrest and detention of persons engaged in criminal activity.”

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The response also denies the allegations detailed in Burdette’s and Pettis’ complaint and seeks dismissal “with prejudice.” The county also asks the court for recovery of its attorney fees and other costs from the plaintiffs.

 “The laws and constitution of the State of Mississippi render the office of Sheriff of Panola County as the chief law enforcement officer within the County with regard to the investigation, arrest and detention (of) state law felony suspects within the county,” Griffith continues in his response for the county to the complaint.

Next Wednesday’s Case Management Conference is a routine step for federal litigation where the magistrate evaluates, among other factors, whether a case is likely to be settled before it goes to trial.