Originally created 03/21/02

Crash victim's relatives sue Swainsboro, officer



Family members of a young woman killed during a police chase in Swainsboro last year have filed a lawsuit against the city and the officer involved.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Superior Court of Emanuel County on behalf of LaShunda Freeman's family, alleges that Swainsboro Police Officer Lanier Griswold disregarded the department's policy on vehicle pursuits, causing Ms. Freeman's death when the motorcycle on which she was riding crashed.

The June 4 incident began after Ms. Freeman, 20, accepted a motorcycle ride from Tracy Allen, who was also killed in the crash. According to Officer Griswold's statement to the Georgia State Patrol, he gave chase after clocking the motorcycle doing "66 mph in a 35 mph zone."

However, the lawsuit argues that speeding alone did not justify a high-speed chase.

A section on vehicle pursuits in the police department's Standard Operating Procedure manual states: "Pursuit is justified only when the officer has reasonable grounds to believe the violator presents a clear and immediate threat to the public or the officer; has committed or is attempting to commit a serious felony; or when the need to apprehend the violator outweighs the level of danger created by the pursuit."

The lawsuit contends that the chase met none of these conditions. It also says that, based on a statement Officer Lanier made in a radio transmission during the chase, he knew the speed of the pursuit - 80 mph at one point - was going to lead to a crash.

Officer Griswold was later cleared of any major wrongdoing in the incident by a Swainsboro Police Department internal review.

Questions about the chase were raised after an investigation by The Augusta Chronicle in July indicated that the officer may have violated the policy. The July 29 article also revealed that Officer Griswold had been reprimanded the previous year for a chase in which he totaled his patrol car, a detail noted in the lawsuit.

When asked what amount the Freeman family is seeking through the lawsuit, their Macon-based attorney, Marc Treadwell, said the family wants only "appropriate compensation" for their and Ms. Freeman's pain and suffering.

An Oct. 10 letter from Mr. Treadwell's law firm to Swainsboro city officials said a jury could be expected to award damages of more than $3 million if the case went to trial. The letter also stated that the family was willing to settle out of court for $950,000 if the offer was accepted within 40 days.

Swainsboro City Attorney Sidney Shepherd said Wednesday that he had not reviewed the lawsuit and couldn't comment.

A lawsuit represents only one side of a dispute. The defendants have 30 days to respond.

Reach Mike Wynn at (706) 823-3218 or mwynn@augustachronicle.com.