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Updated: Tech student files lawsuit seeking damages from Perdue’s phone ‘snatching’

Updated at 4:15 p.m. on 10/22/2018

The Georgia Tech student whose smartphone was briefly snatched by U.S. Sen. David Perdue filed a lawsuit against the Georgia Republican on Monday, seeking damages for alleged unlawful battery. 

The firm helmed by state Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta, and former mayoral candidate Michael Sterling filed a civil battery complaint in Fulton State Court on behalf of the student, Nate Knauf.

The suit seeks a jury trial, damages, attorneys’ fees and costs from Perdue stemming from a confrontation at a football tailgate on Oct. 13. 

“Instead of answering his constituent’s question, civilly interacting with Mr. Knauf, or simply leaving, Senator Perdue forcefully took Mr. Knauf’s phone without his permission in a rude and offensive manner, which constitutes unlawful battery under Georgia law,” the complaint alleges. 

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Perdue’s office on Monday dismissed the lawsuit as a “completely frivolous” political stunt. 

“This is being orchestrated by a former Obama operative and current Democrat state representative who spends most of his time campaigning for Stacey Abrams,” a Perdue spokeswoman said. “Georgians will see this for what it is – a manufactured setup to embarrass the Senator and attack his credibility two weeks before the midterm elections.”

The suit comes a little more than a week after Georgia Tech’s Young Democratic Socialists of America posted a video showing a confrontation with Perdue after Knauf asked about his support for Brian Kemp. 

The video shows Perdue cutting off Knauf and saying “I’m not doing that” after he asked his question. The video then momentarily cuts out before coming back into focus, with Knauf saying, “you stole my property. Give me my phone back, senator.” 

“You wanted a picture? I’m going to give it to you,’ Perdue says before walking away. 

Perdue’s camp previously chalked the episode up to a misunderstanding. The spokeswoman said Perdue thought he was being asked to take a picture and went in to take a selfie. 

“When he realized they didn’t actually want to take a picture, he gave the phone back,” she said. 

The suit calls Perdue’s defense “fictitious.”

Knauf, who had previously asked that his identity be kept private to avoid political retribution, told the AJC earlier this month that he had requested the senator take a picture with his friend so he could ask a question and record the encounter, but declined when Perdue asked for his phone to take a selfie. 

"Senator Perdue did not have permission to seize Mr. Knauf’s property or to stop the recording on Mr. Knauf’s phone," the complaint states.

"Senator Perdue’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences," the complaint goes on to allege.

Knauf said he would like an apology from Perdue and an answer to his question about his support of Kemp “more than anything.” 

Perdue’s spokeswoman said the case “lacks any merit whatsoever.” 

The litigation comes in the thick of Georgia’s volatile gubernatorial race between Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. The contest has drawn national headlines over voting rights.   

About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.

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