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August 25, 2013

Teen, 16, alleges excessive force, false arrest in lawsuit against former Hanceville cop

HANCEVILLE — A lawsuit filed against a former Hanceville police officer alleging he used excessive force against a 15-year-old girl and caused her to be bitten by the department’s K-9 police dog will be heard in Cullman County Circuit Court Tuesday.

Harold Cox, who now works for the Sumiton Police Department, is accused of pulling the sleeping girl out of bed, dragging her outside the home on Williams Avenue Northeast in only a T-shirt and panties, slamming her on the hood of a police car and then putting her in a police vehicle with the K-9 dog that bit her twice on her arm.

The lawsuit filed in March by the girl’s mother, Aimme Davis Cooper, on behalf of her daughter accuses Cox of assault and battery, false imprisonment, excessive use of force and false arrest stemming from the alleged incident on Sept. 29, 2012.

The City of Hanceville and Hanceville Police Department are also named in the suit. Through their attorneys, the three parties deny all charges.

Circuit Judge Martha Williams will preside over a hearing on motions for discovery in the case at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Cox and Hanceville are being represented by J. Bentley Owens III and Ben Presley with Birmingham firm Starnes Davis Florie while Cullman attorney William Porter is representing the teenage girl, identified in court documents as “K.D.”

Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail said he and Police Chief Bob Long reviewed the incident with City Attorney Dan Willingham last year and determined the allegations were unfounded. Long said he stands by the way Cox and other officers handled the situation. Nail said Cox voluntarily left the Hanceville Police Department for Sumiton to be closer to family.

“Any wrongdoing would have had consequences. We don’t sweep things under the rug,” Nail said. “We’re thinking seriously of filing countersuits against these people that file frivolous lawsuits.”

According to the complaint, Cox went to the home of Johnnie and Jamie Davis to investigate a reported noise complaint. Attorneys for Cox and Hanceville allege in court documents that a house party was going on at the residence, and police arrested several individuals, including minors, that night. However, Porter said his client, although she was arrested, was never charged with any crime. Juvenile criminal records are not public.

Cox found Johnnie Davis in the front yard and informed him of the noise complaint. Davis went inside, closing the door behind him, turned down music and came back outside to talk with Cox, according to the complaint.

“Officer Harold Cox, then without consent of Mr. or Mrs. Davis or anyone else at the residence entered through the front door while Mr. Davis was still in his living room,” the complaint stated. “Officer Harold Cox was immediately put on notice that his entry was without consent, as Mr. Davis asked Harold Cox  if he had a warrant. Officer Cox had no warrant. Officer Cox stated he did not need one and still without consent entered the living room of the home.”

Cox walked to a back bedroom where he found the teen girl, now 16, another minor and Jamie Davis. According to the complaint, Cox told the sleeping girl to get out of bed, and when she did not respond, he allegedly forcibly picked her up, threw her in floor and then on the bed, stuck his knee in her back while he handcuffed her and took her outside. The complaint states the girl suffered a head injury in the bedroom and two dog bites on her arm when she was placed inside a police vehicle with the K-9, rather than the back of other available patrol vehicles that had arrived on the scene.

“The Defendants, acted negligently, carelessly, and unskilled in the performance of their duties which resulted in the injuries suffered by the minor Plaintiff,” the complaint states.

The girl did not seek medical treatment, according to court records. The same K-9, a Belgian Malinois named Ichi Bon, that allegedly bit the girl later attacked its handler, Officer Anthony Childress, in June and had to be shot and killed by Childress who suffered lacerations to his head that required surgery.  

Porter said prior to filing the complaint, he tried to reach a resolution with the city, but officials were not open to settling the matter outside of court. He alleges that since the suit was filed, the police department has “harassed” his client’s family.

Calls to attorneys for the defendants were not returned this week, and attempts to reach Cooper and Cox for comment were unsuccessful.

At its Aug. 8 meeting, the Hanceville City Council agreed to pay $6,157.70 to Trident Insurance for legal services related to the lawsuit. On Thursday, the council paid $28,888 for its quarterly payment for liability insurance and additional $13,160 for “tail insurance” to cover any claims that may arise after  its policy has expired. The city’s insurance deductible is $25,000.

Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at towens@cullmantimes.com or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.

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