Originally created 01/03/01

Judge dismisses suit facing sheriff, county



A judge ruled Tuesday that the father of a Columbia County deputy who committed suicide cannot sue the county or Sheriff Clay Whittle and his brother, a sheriff's captain.

In an order released Tuesday in the Columbia County Superior Court civil case, Senior Judge Bernard J. Mulherin Jr. granted the defense's motion to dismiss Thomas L. Frost Jr.'s lawsuit because it lacked any genuine issue for possible trial.

Mr. Frost filed the Columbia County lawsuit in April 1997, alleging Columbia County, Sheriff Whittle and his brother, Capt. Johnny Whittle, were liable for the April 10, 1995, suicide of his son, Thomas L. Frost III.

The younger Mr. Frost had been working as a deputy nearly two years when when he shot himself to death in the parking lot of a Medical College of Georgia clinic.

According to the father's lawsuit, Deputy Frost had been under psychiatric care since the age of 16 and had become despondent, fearing he was going to lose his job that April 5. According to the lawsuit, Deputy Frost was upset when former Rep. Robin Williams, Capt. Whittle and the deputy's superior, Michael J. Newsome, intervened on behalf of a drunken-driving suspect who was released early from jail March 30, 1995.

The Augusta Chronicle reported on the early release April 5, 1995. Deputy Frost was not quoted in the article.

Judge Mulherin ruled Tuesday that Mr. Frost's claims against Columbia County were barred because his attorney did not notify the county of potential claims within the one-year deadline.

The father's lawsuit filed in Richmond County Superior Court against the Medical College of Georgia failed in 1998 because his attorney, Samuel Cruse, did not file the proper notice with the state within a deadline.

The claims against Sheriff Whittle and Capt. Whittle were also barred, Judge Mulherin found. Even if the alleged acts of negligence were true, both men are protected under the state's official immunity; and even if that were not the case, Mr. Frost could not prove any act by them was the primary cause of Deputy Frost's suicide, Judge Mulherin ruled.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.