The Fayette Citizen-News Page
Wednesday, December 16, 1998
Mistaken identity arrest lawsuit filed against sheriff

Staff Writer

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Documents sought by the plaintiff's attorneys in a wrongful arrest lawsuit against Fayette County apparently have been provided through the federal court discovery process, after a failed attempt to get the records via the Georgia Open Records Act.

Bruce Millar, attorney for Charles Ricky Ward of Pike County, says the records did come to him Monday, "but I am in the process of reviewing them to see if they are complete." Millar wrote for the records, which concern training and procedures for operating the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) network, in September but was denied access through the Open Records Act.

"These are records which I believe any citizen could obtain through Open Records," Millar said, "but apparently if you are involved in a lawsuit, you no longer have those rights (to open records)."

Millar then complied with the Federal Rules of Procedure concerning discovery, and was provided the documents he says he is reviewing. The lawsuit was filed in July in the Newnan Division of the U.S. District Court for the northern district of Georgia. Millar estimates that the case may be "at least a year away" from trial.

Named defendants in the suit are Kerri Vines, Lanelle Coker, Wayne Michael and Jim Nations, Fayette County Sheriff's Department employees, Sheriff Randall Johnson and "Fayette County, Georgia." According to one county source, defense of the suit is in the hands of the county's liability insurance carrier, St. Paul Fire and Marine, because the suit alleges an "error or omission" on the part of a county official. Attorneys of record at present are the Atlanta firm of Thomas, Means, Gillis, Devlin, Robinson and Seay.

Allegations in the suit concern a May 10, 1997, incident in which Charles R. Ward was detained for about two days because of a Fayette County warrant issued for a Charley Ward. The suit states that Charles Ricky Ward is Caucasian and born in 1958, and that Charley Ward is African American and born in 1950.

The lawsuit also states that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has audited Fayette's GCIC procedures "on several occasions since 1990." The "failure to ensure adequate training, policies, procedures, practices, and customs regarding the use of the GCIC Computer System led directly and forseeably to the arrest of Plaintiff Charles R. Ward," the lawsuit contends.

The suit seeks "special damages" compensation, payment for "deprivation of his (Ward's) constitutional rights," and punitive damages of $500,000.

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