Originally created 01/04/01

Long-nail lawsuit goes before judge



U.S. District Chief Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. is poised to decide whether a long-nailed woman jailed for more than 72 hours after posting bond can continue with a lawsuit against Augusta.

Georgia Ann LaFavor filed the federal lawsuit in November 1999 against the city, then-Sheriff Charles Webster, then-Chief Deputy and now Sheriff Ronnie Strength and several jail officers, alleging her civil rights were violated when jailers insisted she couldn't leave the jail until she cut her nails so she could be fingerprinted.

She had been taken to the jail Nov. 7, 1997, on a charge of interference with child custody and posted a $2,050 bond the same day but was held until Nov. 10, both sides agreed Wednesday. Attorney James Ellison, who's representing the city, also said Ms. LaFavor was later acquitted of the charge.

Mr. Ellison argued to Judge Bowen on Wednesday that he should throw out Ms. LaFavor's lawsuit. State law requires that anyone taken to jail on charges, even a minor charge such as Ms. LaFavor faced, must be fingerprinted before being released, Mr. Ellison said.

Ms. LaFavor's long fingernails prevented printing by use of the jail's computerized printing machine, Mr. Ellison said. The first jail officer confronted with Ms. LaFavor's nails called four superior officers, citing the problem, and Capt. Gene Johnson called the sheriff and chief deputy for advice and the county attorney, too, Mr. Ellison said.

"Clearly, he was trying to do what he could to get her out of jail," Mr. Ellison said of Capt. Johnson. Manual fingerprinting was an option, but Ms. LaFavor complained her hands were too sensitive, Mr. Ellison said.

Ms. LaFavor's attorney countered Mr. Ellison, telling the judge that Ms. LaFavor has a valid lawsuit and a right to present it to a jury. Craig T. Jones said his client and several officers had stated in depositions that the idea of manual fingerprinting didn't come up until the fourth day of her stay in jail.

"She's being hard-headed; they don't like it, and they're going to teach her a lesson," Mr. Jones said of the jail personnel. There is a constitutional right not to be subjected to pretrial confinement that amounts to punishment, he said.

Judge Bowen did not indicate when he would make a decision on the city's motion for summary judgment.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.