Tennesseean Sues, Says Police Mistook Medical Condition for Drunkenness

June 8, 2011

A Lenoir City, Tenn., man has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Loudon County sheriff after he said he was mistakenly arrested when deputies mistook his cerebral palsy symptoms for drunkenness.

According to the lawsuit filed last month in Loudon County, 59-year-old Garry Palmer accuses the sheriff, three deputies and a court clerk of false arrest, failure to train officers, malicious prosecution and a constitutional rights violation.

County Attorney Bob Bowman declined to comment to the Knoxville News Sentinel and Sheriff Tim Guider didn’t return a call seeking comment.

The lawsuit said that Palmer reported to police that he had accidentally struck a dog that darted in front of his pickup truck in May 2010. Police reported that Palmer was unsteady on his feet, had slurred speech and had difficultly performing field sobriety tests. Palmer said in his lawsuit that he tried to explain these were conditions of his cerebral palsy.

Palmer was taken to a hospital to have blood drawn and booked into the Loudon County jail on a charge of drunken driving. His brother posted bond about four hours later.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Jim Palmer said of his brother’s arrest. “Everybody knows he doesn’t drink. He was so upset he couldn’t talk.”

Lab results from his blood test showed no alcohol, only medications he was taking for his cerebral palsy. However, despite the lab results, Palmer claimed in the lawsuit that prosecutors still pushed the case forward and tried to get him to plead guilty.

Eventually the charge was dropped against Palmer, said Herbert Moncier, his Knoxville-based lawyer.

“Everybody eventually figured out, ‘Hey, this guy has cerebral palsy and you can’t arrest someone for driving with a medical condition,”‘ Moncier said.

Palmer is asking for punitive and compensatory damages along with an injunction that forces law enforcement to make accommodations for a person with a disability during a criminal investigation.

Garry Palmer said the arrest has embarrassed him.

“I’ve never been to jail in my life,” he said. “I’ve never been in trouble in my life.”

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