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Thursday, 26 January 2012 01:10

Police beating in Bryson City leads to $22,500 settlement

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A mentally ill man got a $22,500 settlement in a lawsuit against a Bryson City police officer who hit him multiple times with a baton and sprayed him with pepper spray.

The settlement came more than three years after the incident, which involved a 25-year-old with schizophrenia. The man sustained physical injuries and mental trauma after a Bryson City police officer hit the man repeatedly with a baton while serving involuntary commitment papers on him outside a downtown pizza restaurant.

The out-of-court settlement was reached through mediation in November.

The settlement is being paid by the town’s insurance company and not out of town coffers. In fact, the town didn’t even know it had been settled, said Bryson Town Manager Larry Callicutt.

Callicutt said he found out last week that the case had been settled by the insurance company back in November.

The suit by Jacob Grant claimed Bryson City Police Office Leon Allen sprayed him with pepper spray and hit him on the head, face, shoulders, stomach, back and legs, even after he was already on the ground. Grant’s family had petitioned for involuntary commitment because they feared Grant was not taking his medication.

When Allen tried to take Grant into custody, Grant asked to see the commitment papers, Allen couldn’t produce them, and a verbal argument ensued that allegedly escalated into Allen beating Grant. Ten witnesses stepped forward and filed police brutality complaints against Allen.

Allen, meanwhile, claimed Grant assaulted him. Grant was charged with assaulting an officer but those charges were dropped when Grant agreed to plead guilt to the lesser charge of obstruction of justice.

Allen was placed on leave while the department conducted an internal investigation, but was eventually reinstated on the force. He later left the Bryson police department and went to work in another county.

The settlement was signed on Bryson City’s behalf by Attorney Sean Perrin with Womble and Carlyle law firm out of Charlotte, who specializes in liability claims against police departments. The insurance company hired and paid for the attorney.

Grant was represented by Asheville attorney Andrew Banzhoff. The civil suit was filed almost two years after the incident, just shy of the statute of limitations cut-off.

Banzhoff said he could not discuss the settlement due to confidentiality provisions.

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