It was supposed to be a relaxing Saturday get-together with friends over Chinese takeout. Instead, it ended up in the arrest of a highly-decorated retired general and evolved into an embarrassing ordeal for Fayette County law enforcement officials who are still dealing with the fallout.
Retired four-star general William “Bill” Livsey said Friday he’s still trying to make sense of his arrest over an $80.60 delivery bill for Chinese food. The 84-year-old Fayetteville widower sustained cuts and bruises to his wrists as he was handcuffed by Fayetteville police and said he spent three days in the county jail without his medication and was not allowed to take a shower. He was charged with robbery, misdemeanor obstruction, theft of services, simple assault and terrorist threats.
Police allege Livsey didn’t pay for the food at the time it was delivered to his home and assaulted the delivery driver. Livsey and eyewitnesses’ accounts differ.
“It has nothing to do with being a four-star (general),” Livsey told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday sitting at his kitchen table. Nearby, a wall full of medals and citations detail his 35-year Army career that included war-time tours in Korea and Vietnam. “Every person needs to be treated with respect and dignity. In effect, that’s been destroyed. I’m so bitterly disappointed about this mess.”
For the former Army officer who faced down a sea of Chinese enemy soldiers in war-time Korea, facing robbery charges is tough to accept.
“It’s the worst thing that happened to me in all of my life,” said Livsey, recipient of the Silver Star and Distinguished Service Medal.
Fayetteville police have turned the case over to the county district attorney. Fayette Sheriff Barry Babb said Livsey was not mistreated during his stay in jail.
“We didn’t do any special treatment but we did take good care of him,” Babb said noting his officers kept him informed because of the unusual nature of the case. “We made sure he had his medication and we started working through a mutual friend of the family to make sure everybody was aware of the situation.”
While accounts of the incident differ between police and eyewitnesses, here’s the gist of what happened:
A group of six friends gathered at Livsey’s home Aug. 15 and decided to order Chinese food. After the order from Royal Chef arrived, Livsey tried to pay the driver with a debit card that was declined, according to an emailed statement sent to the AJC earlier this week from Fayetteville Police Chief Scott Pitts.
Livsey’s assistant, Tim Bedgood, suspects the general had forgotten that he had recently cancelled the card. Livsey then offered to pay with a check but was told the restaurant doesn’t take checks. The driver attempted to take the food back, the police chief said.
That is when police say Livsey grabbed the driver’s throat and facial hair, pushed him and pinned him against a refrigerator. During the assault, police said, two people in the home took the food, placed it on a counter and began eating it.
That’s not how Livsey remembers it.
The driver “shoved a couple of female guests and I shoved him. They (police) said I put my hands around his neck but I don’t think I did that,” Livsey said Friday. Bedgood, a longtime friend of and assistant to the general, was at the home during the time of the incident. He said the delivery driver and one of the women at the home ended up in a small tug-of-war over the food “at which time the general touched the guy on his arm and said ‘hey talk to me.’ “
The driver eventually left without the food or the money and reported the incident to police, the chief said. Bedgood said he “immediately left and went up to Royal Chef and paid the entire bill.”
Bedgood said police were at the house when he returned from the restaurant. The commotion that ensued out on the driveway drew the attention of neighbors. One neighbor, Clint Dickerson, said he initially thought somebody had been shot. Then he saw police handcuff Livsey. Livsey said he was taken to jail without his shoes, glasses or medication.
“The police just really over-reacted on him,” Dickerson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday. “He takes medication. A man his age and in his shape… the way they treated him was terrible. There’s no sense in that. They were real rough with him.”
When asked whether police officers at the scene handled Livsey roughly, Fayetteville police Maj. Jeff McMullan said. “We can’t really comment on that. That’s something we’re looking into.”
McMullan noted Livsey’s injuries “were the result of him fighting the officers putting the handcuffs on him. His injuries occurred after the handcuffs were placed on him.” Emergency medical personnel were called to the scene to check Livsey’s vitals and dress his wounds, McMullan said.
A manager at Royal Chef China Bistro in Fayetteville said Livsey’s assistant came to the restaurant several hours after the incident to pay the $80.60 bill. She declined to say anything further except that the issue, as far as the restaurant is concerned, has been resolved.
As far as Livsey is concerned, it’s something he’ll never get over. Despite all of his accomplishments, he fears last Saturday’s arrest is one of the things people will remember most, a misunderstanding that was blown out of proportion.
“I’ll always have this taint of doing something I shouldn’t have done.”