A Dalton law firm is seeking a settlement with the city of Chatsworth on behalf of an 87-year-old woman who a police officer Tasered in August.
Jeffrey Dean of Morris & Dean confirmed his firm is representing Martha Al-Bishara, a Chatsworth resident charged with criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer after she went onto the Boys & Girls Club's property in Chatsworth. Police were called after Al-Bishara went into an unfenced portion of the lot across the street from her home with a kitchen knife. Family members said Al-Bishara was cutting dandelions for a salad.
"In order to protect the family from an all-out media blitz, we reached out to the city of Chatsworth in order to resolve the case," Dean said. "We have seen the video, and there is no aggressive moves against the officers. They actually put themselves in a bad spot by walking up close to her. She had no idea what they were saying to her. Before the video becomes public we wanted to resolve the case.”
Police used the Taser on Al-Bishara, who speaks nominal English according to family members, after she refused commands to drop her knife. Video of the event has not been released to the public, but the Daily Citizen-News was allowed to view the footage shortly after the incident. The video — taken from the body camera of a third responding officer — is from a distance and what Al-Bishara is doing with the knife cannot be determined clearly.
In the footage, police Chief Josh Etheridge and officer Steven Marshall are seen on either side of Al-Bishara with Etheridge with his pistol aimed at the woman and Marshall with a Taser in his hand. Screams of “Put the knife down!” can be heard before Marshall used his Taser.
Etheridge defended the use of the Taser.
"In my opinion, it was the lowest use of force we could have used to simply stop that threat at the time," Etheridge said in an August interview. "And I know everyone is going to say, 'An 87-year-old woman? How big of a threat can she be?' She still had a knife."
District Attorney Bert Poston hasn't pursued charges against Al-Bishara, but his office said Wednesday that the case is still active awaiting more information. Once the criminal case is closed — either through conviction, plea, judgment or dropping of the charges — the materials from the investigation are deemed open records and are available to the public.
Chatsworth city attorney Steve Williams said he has not been involved with the negotiations and Dean has been in contact with Trident Public Risk Solutions. Trident is owned by Argo Group Insurance Co. and specializes in representing public entities such as school boards and municipalities. The city of Chatsworth is insured by Argo Group. Messages seeking comment from Argo Group were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Dean said he has spoken with Trident representatives but has not heard back from the company in two weeks. He did not comment on the details of any settlement offer he has presented to Trident. If a settlement cannot be reached, Dean said he is prepared to file a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Rome alleging excessive force and violation of Al-Bishara’s civil rights.
“I am trying to give the city an opportunity to resolve it without litigation,” Dean said. “She does not wish to cause any dissension in the county or any problems for the officers. We hired an expert witness who is a college professor who has watched the video and told us that all of the things the officers did were in conflict with proper training.”