Thrown in Jail for Saying 'Panties'
ATLANTA (CN) - An elderly, asthmatic chiropractor claims in court that he was falsely arrested and jailed because Atlanta police officers "are instructed that any person who says the word 'panties' to a 2-year-old is guilty of felony child molestation, regardless of the circumstances under which the statement is uttered."
Dan Benson sued Atlanta and its police Officer Andres Facemyer, in Federal Court. He claims he was falsely arrested and jailed, denied bond and medication, subjected to "repeated threats by jail staff and guards," all for an innocent, short exchange with a little girl, in the presence of her mother.
He says he was jailed for more than 2 weeks, in vile conditions, and that "After Mr. Benson's charges were dismissed and he was released from Jail, his case was indicted by a Grand Jury. Eventually Mr. Benson entered a pretrial diversion program and his charges were dismissed and expunged. Mr. Benson was not convicted of any crime."
Benson says he is a licensed chiropractor who has run an office in Atlanta since 1974. He often walks in Chastain Park, as exercise for his asthma. That's where the bizarre chain of circumstances began, he says, sometime after 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 22, 2011.
The complaint states: "After he arrived at the Park, Mr. Benson walked along the park trail along Lake Forrest Drive. As he walked, he passed a woman who was walking with her daughter. The mother was pushing a stroller, and the daughter walked closely behind her.
"As the mother and daughter passed, Mr. Benson waved hello.
"The daughter did not respond, but the mother said hello. The mother then stopped walking, turned, and told her daughter to 'say hello to the nice man." The daughter then waived at Mr. Benson, and he waived back.
"Mr. Benson then commented that the daughter was wearing a beautiful pink dress. While still holding onto her mother, the little girl raised her dress and said the word 'panties.'
"This reminded Mr. Benson of his own daughter's childhood and the many dresses she wore with matching bloomers. Reminiscing, he said, 'My daughter had panties just like yours,' and turned to continue his walk. Mr. Benson then used his cell phone to call his brother ..."
After a long walk, Benson was preparing to leave the park at about 3 p.m. when, much to his surprise, Officer Facemyer arrested him.
The complaint continues: "As Mr. Benson approached Officer Facemyer, the Officer asked Mr. Benson if he was armed. Mr. Benson stated that he was carrying a Ruger 380 and that held a valid permit. Officer Facemyer stated that Mr. Benson was being
detained and that if Mr. Benson attempted to run, Officer Facemyer would 'tackle
and hurt' the 65-year-old asthmatic man. Officer Facemyer then handcuffed Mr.
"Two other officers repeatedly interrogated Mr. Benson after he was placed under arrest. These officers repeatedly asked Mr. Benson what he said to the little girl. Upon hearing Mr. Benson's answer, the officers insisted that he was lying.
"Mr. Benson was arrested and charged with child molestation and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was eventually transported to the Fulton County Jail at 901 Rice Street."
On the way to jail, the officer driving the van laughed at him when he said he was having a medical emergency, Benson says. He was book into jail at about 3 p.m. on Feb. 22 and not allowed to make a phone call, he says.
The complaint continues: "Mr. Benson's first appearance hearing was held on February 23, 2011.
"Before the hearing, Mr. Benson was warned by his public defender that he should not say a word and that his life was in danger.
"At Mr. Benson's first appearance hearing, the judge found probable cause that Mr. Benson had committed the offense of child molestation based upon the affidavit submitted by Officer Facemyer.
"At the hearing, the judge denied bond and found that Mr. Benson was a significant flight risk, posed a significant danger to the community, posed a significant risk of committing a felony while his trial was pending, and posed a significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.
"Mr. Benson was held in inhumane conditions at the jail. During Mr. Benson's incarceration, he was subject to repeated threats by jail staff and guards; threatened to sign documents he was not allowed to read or understand; held in overcrowded and unsanitary cells; denied adequate food, water, and basic nutrition; and denied adequate medical treatment.
"During Mr. Benson's incarceration, his family and friends did not know where he was and believed he was missing or deceased. Eventually Mr. Benson convinced a public defender seeing another inmate to call his daughter. This was the first time Mr. Benson communicated with his family or lawyer.
"Mr. Benson's probable cause hearing was held on March 9, 2011 in the Fulton County Superior Court. Officer Facemyer was the only witness to testify on behalf of the State.
"As a result of his arrest and incarceration, Mr. Benson now suffers from an inability to sleep, nightmares, depression, and ability to focus.
"As a result of his arrest and incarceration, Mr. Benson's professional reputation has been harmed. Mr. Benson has been excluded as a health care provider for two different insurance companies, lost substantial income.
"As a result of his arrest, Mr. Benson was unable to file legal documents related to a property jointly owned with his brother. The failure to file these documents was related solely to Mr. Benson's arrest by Officer Facemyer. Because of Mr. Benson's arrest, the property was foreclosed and Mr. Benson sustain monetary loss.
"After Mr. Benson's charges were dismissed and he was release from jail, his case was indicted by a Grand Jury. Eventually Mr. Benson entered a pretrial diversion program and his charges were dismissed and expunged. Mr. Benson was not convicted of any crime."
Benson claims the whole fiasco happened because "City of Atlanta police officers are instructed that any person who says the word 'panties' to a 2-year-old is guilty of felony child molestation, regardless of the circumstances under which the statement is uttered."
Benson seeks punitive damages for constitutional violations and deliberate indifference.
He is represented by Jeffrey R. Filipovits.