Attorney: Lawsuit coming against Varnell for former sergeant's actions

A woman who claimed she was touched on the backside twice by a former city of Varnell police sergeant, and who had her claim of him "inappropriately touching" her "substantiated” by surveillance video, according to the city's police chief, plans to file a civil lawsuit against the city, according to her attorney.

Ibrahim Awad said he expects to file the lawsuit in Whitfield County Superior Court “in the next couple of weeks” on behalf of Elizabeth Miller against the city and former police sergeant Patrick John Hayes.

"We have already sent a notice to the city within six months of the incident, and our next step would be filing a lawsuit,” Awad said on Wednesday. “I don’t think we are going to wait. In the next couple of weeks, I think we will be filing a lawsuit just to get the process rolling. We had waited because it was important for us to know he had been indicted, charges had been filed and he is in the process of being arraigned.”

Hayes was arrested July 3 by the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office after being indicted by a grand jury for misdemeanor sexual battery. He was released from the county jail on a $1,000 bond. He was in Superior Court on Wednesday morning for arraignment but it was postponed until Sept. 13 so Hayes can hire an attorney. He said in court he had spoken with attorney Marcus Morris but had not retained him.

Miller made a complaint with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office on July 5, 2018, claiming that while she was at a convenience store, Hayes, whom she knew, "slapped her on the butt" as she was going to get into a car, according to a sheriff's office incident report. She said she started to sit in the vehicle and "felt Sgt. Hayes' hand graze against her butt again."

An incident report written by Varnell Police Chief Lyle Grant said Grant and then-deputy chief Greg Fowler reviewed surveillance video and “found that the complaint was substantiated and Officer Hayes did touch the female victim inappropriately.”

Awad said he had filed an ante litem notice with the city late last year. Under Georgia law, any person seeking to make a claim for monetary damages against a city because of injuries to the person or property must notify the city within six months of the incident before the person can file a lawsuit. Awad said Varnell city attorney Terry Miller replied on Jan. 7 and said the city had no responsibility for Hayes’ actions.

“It is an odd type of response implying there is no liability even though he was in uniform and on the job,” Awad said. “It isn’t unusual to get that type of response. It is just a way for them to try to deter further action, but it won’t deter us.”

A message left for Miller at his law firm was not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

Varnell city manager Mike Brown said he could not comment on pending litigation and referred questions to the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), the organization that provides the city’s insurance. Brown said the city’s insurance premiums peaked at $56,000 a year — but couldn’t give an exact year — and are currently $45,679.

Brown said the city is covered up to $600,000 if the city is held liable for wrongful acts by public officials.

Contacted Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the GMA said the organization couldn’t comment on “any potential or pending litigation.”

Awad said he hasn’t decided what kind of damages Elizabeth Miller will seek.

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