State appeals court backs dismissal of suit vs. city, police department

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Mississippi Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lowercourt’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed against the city of Brookhavenand the police department following a January 2001 pursuit.

According to the court’s seven-page decision, McNair Smith Jr.was appealing Circuit Judge Mike Smith’s ruling in the personalinjury lawsuit he filed in 2002. In his lawsuit, Smith allegedfalse arrest, unreasonable seizure, violation of due process, grossnegligence and other actions by police officers responding to the2001 incident.

In the incident, according to court documents, McNair Smith andStephanie Hardy were traveling to her mother’s home when they beganto be followed by Patrick Hardy, her estranged husband. At onepoint after Smith stopped his car, Patrick Hardy fired two shotsinto the vehicle.

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“Smith immediately drove away and a car chase between the twoensued,” the ruling said. “At one point, the two cars reachedspeeds of 110 miles per hour.”

After entering Brookhaven, the two cars were eventually stoppedby Officer Tecumseh Warren and other law enforcement personnel.

Smith sped away again was stopped a few blocks away. Warren, alaw enforcement trainee at the time, drew his gun on Smith whileasking the man to exit his vehicle, according to the courtrecord.

Smith and Patrick Hardy were cited for reckless driving, failureto yield to blue lights and speeding. Smith was found not guilty ofall the charges later in municipal court, and the police departmentdropped the charges against Patrick Hardy.

McNair Smith filed his lawsuit against the city, the policedepartment, Warren and Patrick Hardy in April 2002. The suitagainst Hardy was settled in the early stages of litigation, theappeals court ruling said.

In July 2003, Judge Smith granted the other defendants’ motionfor summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit.

McNair Smith appealed the dismissal. Smith alleged the trialcourt erred in granting the summary judgment, that Warren acted ina reckless disregard for his safety, that there was a questionwhether he was engaged in a criminal activity and that Warren wasnot individually immune from the lawsuit.

The appeals court said there was testimony to support Warren’sactions and that Smith had failed to point out any material factissues in support of his claims. The court also said there was noevidence that Warren acted with malice toward Smith and therefore,he was not individually liable.

City Attorney Joe Fernald said he believed Judge Smith made thecorrect ruling initially and he was pleased the appeals courtaffirmed that decision. He said Warren was acting within the scopeof his duties and that attorney Will Allen did a good job inarguing the case for the city before the appeals court.

“He raised some salient points in the case and the lawsuitshould have been dismissed,” Fernald said.