Inmate Says Mowing Duty Too Hazardous

NORFOLK (CN) — An inmate claims in court that a Virginia Beach sheriff’s deputy placed him in harm’s way by ordering him to drive a riding lawn mower into oncoming traffic.
     In a complaint filed in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court, inmate Allan Petit says he was part of a work detail on General Booth Blvd. on April 22, 2014, when the deputy, identified only as “Deputy Hunter” ordered him to cross the street with his riding mower.
     Petit says he tried to look both ways before proceeding, but he claims he was required to hold a weed eater on his lap as he drove, and therefore he was unable to fully turn to assess the traffic.
     Following orders from Hunter, Petit turned his mower towards the road to cross when he was struck by a civilian vehicle, and thrown onto the pavement, the complaint says.
     Sheriff Ken Stolle, a defendant named in the lawsuit, told Courthouse News the case has no merit.
     “The lawsuit is so utterly ridiculous,” Stolle said. “I asked Jeff Rosen, [ the sheriff’s attorney] to file a sanction against the lawsuit. It’s a frivolous case.”
     Stolle also says Petit had a personal responsibility to protect himself from the dangers of traffic.
     “He has an obligation to look before he crosses the street,” Stolle said. “He was at fault, totally his fault.”
     The sheriff’s department also takes issue with Petit’s contention that there was a policy requiring inmates to carry weed eaters on their laps. Kathy Hieatt, public information officer for the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office said there is no “formal or informal policy” requiring inmates to carry their equipment in that fashion.
     “Also, our deputies have never instructed any of our workforce inmates to carry a weed eater while riding a lawn mower,” Hiett said.
     Petit is suing the Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Stolle, Deputy Hunter and Scott Harsh, the driver of the vehicle that struck him, for $450,000.

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