A Lithonia man, arrested last year on a drug possession charge, is suing DeKalb County after receiving a fractured jaw in a police car accident. But a judge’s ruling last week would keep key evidence from a jury.
On May 15, 2010, DeKalb County Police officer Junior Lamont Stephens arrested Earnest Corbett, of Lithonia, on an outstanding Newton County warrant for possession of marijuana. According to the lawsuit and police department documents, Corbett was handcuffed and placed into the police vehicle without being fastened into a seatbelt.
In statements for an internal investigation of the incident, the officer said that while transporting Corbett, he swerved and slowed his police vehicle abruptly to avoid a car that turned in front of him. During the process, the suspect, who had been leaning forward, hit his face on the Plexiglas divider.
“Mr. Corbett advised that his filling in his tooth had knocked out due to his face impacting the prisoner glass window,” according to Stephens’ statement. “Mr. Corbett also [spat] out a little bit of blood while getting out [of] the patrol unit.”
The officer said he notified corrections officers at the Newton County jail.
“The deputy looked at Mr. Corbett’s mouth and said that it was a dental injury problem, not a major injury,” according to the officer’s statement. “An additional co-worker inside of intake documented this incident. Mr. Corbett did not complain about any other injuries except his tooth.”
Stephens stated that the jail nurse gave Corbett some Motrin and accepted him into the jail.
After being released from jail two days after his arrest, Corbett went to Rockdale Medical Center and then to Grady Hospital where he received medical treatment for a fractured jaw, according to the lawsuit. He was hospitalized for two days and his jaw was wired shut with 10 wires.
The lawsuit, filed Jan. 18, accuses Stephens of “negligence and failure to exercise ordinary care, and disregard for the safety of others.” Because of his injuries, which have some permanent effects, Corbett lost significant income, and continues to have “significant pain and suffering,” according to the lawsuit.
An Aug. 12, 2010, disciplinary report signed by DeKalb Police Chief William O’Brien shows that Stephens was suspended for one day without pay for violation of departmental rules and failing to report the incident to his supervisor.
In September, attorneys for the county filed a motion to exclude any evidence or testimony concerning the failure to use a seatbelt, including use of the police department’s employee policies regarding fastening seatbelts for passengers.
State Court Judge Eleanor Ross granted the motion on Dec. 15 along with a motion removing Stephens as a defendant.
Corbett’s attorney, Aaron Marks, who learned of the judge’s ruling when contacted by The Champion, said he was disappointed in the decision.
“It’s a very bad ruling in my opinion,” Marks said. “I’m quite surprised.”
DeKalb County Police spokeswoman Mekka Parrish would not discuss the case. “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation,” Parrish said.
A trial has not been scheduled.