Agnes Scott College has settled a decade-long false arrest and negligence case involving three of its campus police officers. While no judge ruled on the case, the outcome could have implications for other cases involving school law enforcement officers.
The lawsuit against the small women’s college in Decatur centered around the police department’s 2009 arrest of a woman who was falsely accused of sexually assaulting a student in a campus dorm.
Lawyers for Amanda Hartley, who is now 36, said the campus police at Agnes Scott did not perform a thorough investigation before arresting Hartley, who was studying at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She spent several weeks in custody in Tennessee and DeKalb County before the charges were dismissed, said Lloyd Bell, a local attorney who represented Hartley in her suit against the school.
“It was just a nightmare for her,” Bell said. Hartley knew the student, but was in Tennessee at the time of the alleged assault.
The settlement amount was confidential and was not disclosed. Danita Knight, a spokeswoman for Agnes Scott, said the college does not comment on litigation.
The civil case bounced between DeKalb County State Court, the state Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court for years, and even went to trial at one point. But along the way, Bell said, the case provided an important clarification of Georgia law surrounding campus police officers.
Agnes Scott tried to dismiss the lawsuit by arguing that the police officers — who were certified by a state agency — were shielded under sovereign immunity and could not be sued, Bell said. Sworn police officers working for public agencies are generally offered protection from private lawsuits. But the state’s highest court ruled that the college and its officers could be sued because they were hired by a private institution and were not acting on behalf of the state.
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After that ruling, the case went to trial in DeKalb and lasted about two weeks. Judge Johnny Panos, however, declared a mistrial after learning one of the jurors had done independent research outside of the courtroom and was trying to influence other jurors, Bell said.
According to the lawsuit, an Agnes Scott detective did not do a proper inspection of the scene, and obtained a warrant for Hartley’s arrest without evidence that she was on campus at the time of the reported assault. While she was in custody, she missed her exams in Tennessee and lost her university scholarship, Bell said. Three campus officers involved with the case were initially named in the lawsuit, but they were later dismissed as defendants and only the college was named.
“It feels very good to close the case, frankly, so Amanda can get on with her life,” Bell said.
Hartley now lives in North Carolina working as a tutor and a guide on nature hikes.
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