The Southern Standard, by Duane Sherrill —
A confrontation between a family of four and deputies has brought a $1.5 million lawsuit, with the Champion family targeting the sheriff, one of his deputies and the county.
The suit, filed by Hal and Janice Champion in federal court this week, asks for $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages against former sheriff’s deputy Stuart Colwell, Sheriff Jackie Matheny, in his role as sheriff, and the county of Warren.
The suit comes after an incident June 6, 2004 where Lance Champion, son of the plaintiffs, stopped deputy Stan Hillis near Three Star Mall and accused the lawman of speeding. An exchange between the two transpired, leading to Champion’s arrest.
It was minutes later Janice Champion and son Stephen, 17, arrived to check on Lance. At that point there was allegedly an exchange between Stephen and deputy Colwell, during which the teen slapped the lawman’s hand and was arrested. Mrs. Champion was arrested minutes later.
Mr. Champion, who had a confrontation with officers as he arrived to check on his family, was shot with a taser gun by Colwell as his wife and son watched from nearby patrol cars. It is the arrests of Mr. and Mrs. Champion which are the basis of the lawsuit.
“The tasering occurred in full view of Steven and Janice, both of whom sat helplessly in the back of patrol cars witnessing this horrible sequence of events,” the suit maintains. “Both thought Hal had actually been shot by a gun and was either critically injured or killed.”
The suit notes Mrs. Champion was arrested after she allegedly refused to leave the scene. However, the mother was unable to do so because she had ridden there in a straight shift vehicle and is unable to drive a stick shift automobile.
The suit comes after grand jurors refused to indict the Champions after hearing the evidence against them. The juvenile court did convict Stephen for assault on an officer but the conviction is under appeal.
According to the Champions’ attorney, Michael Galligan, the actions of Colwell were outrageous.
“This event should have never happened at all,” Galligan said. “Sheriff’s deputy Colwell had a very dangerous taser weapon like a kid with a cap gun. The results have been traumatic to Hal and Janice Champion. Their arrests were uncalled for. I don’t believe the sheriff’s deputies realize the damage it causes to a family like the Champions, being hauled off to jail in shackles like hardened criminals. Our citizens deserve better.”
In response to the suit, Sheriff Matheny remains firm behind his officers, saying he believes they were right in their actions.
“The officers will finally have their day in court,” Matheny said. “This way they will finally be able to clear their names.”
The suit maintains the Champions suffered both physical and mental injuries and that the action of the deputy constituted aggravated assault and reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon. Mr. Champion suffered burns due to the tasering and was treated at the hospital. The Champions also say they were falsely imprisoned and that their human rights were violated.
A date has not been set for hearing the suit.