DECATUR, Ga. -- The family of a Georgia woman who died last year after she fell from a moving patrol car has filed a civil rights lawsuit, saying sheriff's deputies improperly arrested her and ultimately caused her death, attorneys announced Wednesday.
The deputies who put Brianna Grier in the back of a patrol car to take her to the Hancock County Sheriff's Office failed to close the rear passenger-side door before driving away, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found. The 28-year-old woman suffered brain trauma when she hit her head in the July 15 fall and was in a coma until she died July 21 at an Atlanta hospital, her family said.
The federal wrongful death lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Hancock County Sheriff Tomlyn Primus, his brother Lt. Marlin Primus and Deputy Timothy Legette of gross negligence leading to Grier’s death. A message seeking comment was left with a person who answered the phone in the sheriff's office Wednesday.
Grier was arrested after sheriff’s deputies were called to her parents’ home in Sparta. Her family called 911 for help because Grier was experiencing a mental health crisis, said prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who's representing Grier's family.
“There is no excuse, no justification why Brianna Grier is dead and why she died in such a horrific manner, falling out the back of an unsecured police vehicle traveling on the highway, her head colliding with the concrete on the street,” Crump said during a news conference announcing the lawsuit Wednesday.
The deputies put Grier in the back of a patrol car, but she was not wearing a seatbelt, her hands were cuffed in front of her and the rear passenger-side door was never closed, according to GBI investigators.
The GBI announced in November that its investigation was complete and that the Ocmulgee Circuit district attorney had decided not to bring the case before a grand jury for possible charges.
“My baby, Brianna Grier, she wasn't an animal. She wasn't a bad person,” Grier's mother, Mary Grier, told reporters. “She just had some problems she couldn't control.”
Grier's family had previously called law enforcement for help with her episodes and the responding deputies were aware of her history as a diagnosed schizophrenic and knew she was having “an acute mental health episode,” the lawsuit says.
Lawyer Eric Hertz, another lawyer for the family, said there's a big problem in Georgia with the way people who are experiencing mental health problems are dealt with by police.
“This is not the first incident, but we hope it will be the last,” he said. “It is our goal in this case to get the highest verdict there's ever been in Georgia for a case of this type to send a message all the way up to the top that this should not happen.”
Attorney Gerald Griggs, who's president of the Georgia NAACP, said Georgia's mental health services must be fully funded and there should be a mandate that every police department send crisis interveners for mental health calls.
“Brianna Grier should be here raising her two beautiful daughters instead of us standing outside of a courthouse demanding justice for her,” Griggs said.
Mary Grier said her 5-year-old twin granddaughters, Maria and Mariah, constantly ask for their mother. Mary Grier's husband — Brianna's father — died a couple of months after Brianna did, and she said she feels “broken, truly broken.”