Fireworks and Lawsuit: Man files suit

A Lynchburg man has filed suit against Liberty University and two of its police officers over an arrest in June 2009. The $6 million lawsuit alleges false arrest and excessive force.

Former City Council candidate Anthony Howard and his family were attending the annual Celebrate America Independence Day event at Williams Stadium when someone told the Liberty University Police Department (LUPD) that Howard was being rough with his 14 year old son Isaiah.

LUPD Officers Craig Sasser and Marcus Tinsley arrived on scene and attempted to question the boy to make sure he was alright, police said.

“We were just looking out for the welfare of the child,” LUPD Chief Richard Hinkley said.

In the lawsuit, Howard claims that he had merely grabbed his son by the shirt after becoming separated from him and that he told the boy to “get your butt over here.” He accused the officers of harassing his family and telling him to “shut up.”

“[The officer] kept ignoring me like I was some low-life, ignorant black man, you know,” Howard said in an interview with WDBJ7 News. “I didn’t like that. That wasn’t right.”

After Howard refused to let the officers speak to his son, he was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice. Hinkley told The News & Advance that Howard began to fight, attempting to kick the officers even after he was handcuffed, so they were forced to use pepper spray.

The lawsuit claims that Howard was choked “until his face turned purple” and that he tore a tendon in his shoulder. The suit charges false arrest, deprivation of liberty, unreasonable seizure, excessive force, assault and battery, excessive force and negligent training. Howard asks for between $800,000 and $1.2 million for each count but said that it is not about the money.

“It’s principle. It’s not about money to me. It’s principle. Somebody ought to have came back and said, ‘Sorry about what happened to you and your family,’ or whatever,” Howard said. “We wouldn’t have even had a lawsuit, man.”

Howard was found not guilty of obstruction of justice by Lynchburg General District Court, but he was convicted of resisting arrest. He appealed to circuit court, and the resisting arrest charge was dismissed.

“I really hate to say this, but I hope this wasn’t racially motivated,” Howard said. “I don’t want to play the race card. That’s not me. I don’t believe in that, but I hope this wasn’t racially motivated.”

Hinkley could not elaborate further on anything since it is an active lawsuit, but he said he stood by his officers.

They followed procedure and attempted to ensure the welfare of Howard’s son, and he said they responded the way they felt was appropriate for the situation.

ADAMS is a news writer.

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