Attorneys for Avery Gray, the mother of a 14-year-old girl whose wrists reportedly needed splints after she was pulled out from behind the wheel of a running vehicle and arrested last year, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chattanooga, its police department and a car dealership, along with its employees.
The incident took place in June 2018 when an M&R Motors car repossession agent, Walter Clay, was trying to take possession of Gray’s vehicle that was parked outside the Hamilton County Jail. He couldn’t, though, because Gray’s daughter was sitting in the car. So he asked a Chattanooga Police Department officer, only identified as “J. Wright” in the lawsuit, for help.
The lawsuit alleges the repossession of the vehicle was unlawful and, because it was carried out with the assistance of a police officer, was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which ensures “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
The lawsuit also claims the actions of the officer and others are considered a breach of the peace that deprived Gray and her daughter of their property and liberty without due process, something they allegedly conspired to do. It claims the girl’s arrest constitutes false imprisonment, and that Wright assaulted her and committed battery.
The city attorney’s office did not return a request for comment, and the Chattanooga Police Department declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. But at the time of the incident, police Chief David Roddy said the force used by the officer was in compliance with the department’s use of force policy and training.
“Force used by officers can be controversial, but it is also needed in certain situations when safety of the individuals involved and the public at-large are at stake,” Roddy said in a statement on June 27, 2018.
Gray had quit making payments on the car because, after buying it two months earlier, she discovered it “had serious problems,” according to the lawsuit. Her attorney, Stephen Duggins, argues those problems were not disclosed at the time of sale, and the company had stated the vehicle was “in good operating condition.” Gray had tried to take the car back, but the company refused.
Then June 25, 2018, came, and Gray’s daughter was sitting in the driver’s seat while Gray left for a short time. That is when Clay approached the car and then asked Wright, who was in his patrol vehicle parked nearby, for help in repossessing it, according to the lawsuit.