Carter County Sheriffs Department, deputy named in civil rights lawsuit

Published 4:40 pm Friday, October 19, 2018

For a point of clarification, Carter County Sheriffs officer Mark McClain was not named as a defendant in Garry Fritts’ federal lawsuit against deputy Jonathan Simerly, the Sheriffs Department and Carter County. In Fritts’ complaint filed on Aug. 23, 2018, it named deputies Simerly and Michael Malone as defendants. However, according to a response to Fritts’ complaint filed by the defendants on Oct. 18, Malone wasn’t present during the arrest that Fritts’ lawsuit centers around. Instead of Malone, McClain accompanied Simerly to Fritts’ residence and assisted Simerly in the arrest of Fritts but was not named as a defendant, said the response.

A Carter County man and his wife have filed a federal lawsuit against Carter County, the Carter County Sheriffs Department, and Sheriff deputy Jonathan Simerly for alleged civil rights violations.

In a complaint filed on Aug. 23 with the United States Eastern District Court of Tennessee, Garry Fritts, 68, and his wife, Cynthia Fritts, are suing the above mentioned for alleged violations of Garry Fritts’ “clearly established constitutional rights to be free from fear, danger, and intimidation as guaranteed by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” The complaint also claims that the defendants violated Fritts’ right to due process of law as well as his freedom from unreasonable search, seizure, and arrest, warrantless entry, and excessive force. Fritts is also suing the defendants for counts of false arrest, false imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress, and trespassing.

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The suit was filed following an arrest on Aug. 25, 2017, when Simerly and deputy Mark McClain responded to a call at Fritts’ residence at 130 Sunshine Lane in Elizabethton. Fritts was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault and resisting a stop/frisk. The charges of aggravated assault were dropped, however, a grand jury indicted Fritts’ on charges of retaliation for past action (Class E Felony) and resisting arrest (Class B Misdemeanor) on Sept. 4, 2018. Fritts was charged with retaliation for past action for allegedly threating to shoot Simerly and McClain as well as two other individuals while being transported to the Carter County Detention Facility.

Fritts claims in his complaint that on Aug 25, 2017, he had an altercation with Jeff Dills of Bulldog Plumbing and Dills’ son. Fritts said that during the altercation at Fritts’ residence that when trying to get Dills to stop and talk to him about repairs at his home, that Dills allegedly drove by at a high rate of speed and almost struck Fritts. Fritts claims that he then pulled a gun and held it close to his leg in fear of his safety. The complaint goes on to say that Fritts askes Dills where they were going, with Dills replying to get parts and return. In their response to the suit filed on Oct. 18, the deputies denied the claims about Dills driving at a high rate of speed and almost hitting Fritts and added that Fritts allegedly drew his weapon without cause.

Simerly and McClain then responded to call at Fritts’ residence that an individual had drawn a weapon on someone. According to Fritts, he told the deputies that they needed to arrest Dills and that he had footage of the incident prompting the deputies to ask to see the footage. In Fritts’ complaint, it says that Cynthia Fritts told the deputies that they need to either take their boots off or put coverings over their boots before entering the home. The deputies denied this claim, saying that it was Garry Fritts told them to take their boots off, upon which Simerly replied they couldn’t due to safety concerns. Fritts also says that he notified the deputies that he had a gun and a permit for the weapon. The deputies said they do not recall Fritts saying whether or not he had a permit.

In the deputies response, Simerly asked Fritts if he was armed, Fritts confirmed he was but allegedly would not turn over possession of the gun to the deputies. The response then says that Fritts allegedly began to retreat into his home and that Simerly reached for Fritts’ wrist but he jerked away. The deputies then pursued Fritts into the kitchen, where according to the court document, the three went to the ground. In his complaint, Fritts says that the deputies supposedly put their knees in his back and forcefully pulled his hands behind his back. The deputies said they do not recall putting their knees in Fritts’ back and said that Fritts allegedly kept his hand under his body to keep from being handcuffed.

Fritts claims that while on the ground he called out in pain and said his chest was hurting. He also said his wife informed the deputies that Fritts was a heart patient and that he needed his medicine, nitroglycerine. The complaint also says that Fritts himself begged for his medicine, but Simerly allegedly refused. The deputies, in their response, said that while on the floor, Fritts allegedly continuously yelled and told his wife to “shoot these mother f-ckers.” The deputies said they don’t recall Mrs. Fritts claims about her husband’s medical problems and that they also do not recall Fritts yelling in pain and asking for his medicine. Simerly also denies refusing to give Fritts his medicine.

The complaint says the deputies allegedly lifted Fritts to his feet by the handcuffs after Fritts said he could not get to his feet due to the handcuffs, his age of 68, and his physical health. Fritts also says that the officers allegedly by his neck and the handcuffs, forced him to get into deputies SUV and that Fritts’ head was banged on the cruiser’s door. While in transportation the Carter County Detention Center, Fritts says he complained of chest pain and asked for his medicine, to which, he claims Simerly said to “shut up” and if he “had to pull over” that “it ain’t going to be good.” The deputies denied all of the above claims about the cruiser and the incidents that Fritts claims happened during transport. The deputies also said that Fritts allegedly made threats to shoot both deputies and Dills and his son while in transport.

Fritts’ complaint says that while incarcerated that he became dizzy and fell to the floor and that a jailer refused him help. Fritts says that he layed on a concrete floor for 11 hours and had to be transported out of the detention center on a wheelchair because he was too weak to walk. The complaint also says that Fritts had bruising or abrasions on his wrists, arms, legs, and was bleeding behind his ear. Fritts, according to the court document, is a veteran and has had to double his post-traumatic stress disorder medication after the events on Aug 25. 2017, and he also now has to use a cane.

The response to Fritts’ complaint denies that Fritts was brought out of lock-up via wheelchair and that the defendants have no knowledge of Fritts’ alleged injuries besides that a small cut behind Fritts’ ear was discovered upon his arrival to the jail.

The defendants deny any allegations that the deputies attacked Fritts during the arrests that his civil rights were violated.

Fritts and his wife are being represented by defense attorney Ursula Bailey out of Knoxville.