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Tucker v. Pearce

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 30, 2015

TUCKER
v.
PEARCE et al

Reconsideration denied April 14, 2015 -- Cert. applied for.

Official immunity. Brantley Superior Court. Before Judge Kight.

Brown, Readdick, Bumgartner, Carter, Strickland & Watkins, Terry Readdick, Richard K. Strickland, Steven Blackerby, Aaron W. Mumford, for appellant.

Bowen Painter, W. Andrew Bowen, Paul W. Painter III; Brennan Wasden & Painter, W. Richard Dekle, for appellees.

OPINION

Page 496

Doyle, Presiding Judge.

Tammy Pearce (" the Plaintiff" ), individually and as administrator of the estate of her husband, Christopher Pearce (" Pearce" ), filed a wrongful death suit against Glynn County Police Officer Henry Tucker after Pearce committed suicide while in the custody of the Glynn County Police Department. Officer Tucker filed a motion for summary judgment, and, following a hearing, the trial court denied [332 Ga.App. 188] in part Officer Tucker's motion.[1] Officer Tucker appeals, contending that the trial court erred by denying his motion for summary judgment because any negligent acts on his part were discretionary and because there was insufficient evidence that his acts proximately caused Pearce's death. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

To prevail at summary judgment under OCGA § 9-11-56, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the undisputed facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a matter of law.[2]

On appeal from a denial of a motion for summary judgment, we conduct a de novo review of the evidence.[3]

So viewed, the evidence shows that Pearce suffered from major depressive disorder. On Sunday, October 26, 2008, Hugh Harrison, Pearce's pastor at the People's Liberty Baptist Church, noticed that something was bothering Pearce. Pearce told Harrison that Harrison had been a good friend to him, and Harrison thought it was odd that Pearce used the past tense.

Later that night, at around 9:45, Pearce rang the doorbell at Harrison's home. Harrison looked out of the peephole, and when he observed that Pearce was holding a gun, Harrison retrieved and loaded his own gun. Meanwhile, Harrison's wife called 911 and reported that Pearce had a gun and was possibly on medication. A few minutes later, Pearce again rang the doorbell of Harrison's home and knocked on the door with the butt of his gun.

At approximately 10:15 p.m., Officer Tucker and Officer Tomlinson arrived at Harrison's home in response to the 911 call. Pearce was walking down Harrison's driveway toward the officers as they arrived. The officers stopped their cars, got out, and approached Pearce, who had tucked his gun in the back of his waistband. The officers then drew their weapons. On Officer Tucker's orders, Pearce put up his hands and got down on his knees, and Officer Tomlinson took Pearce's gun.

[332 Ga.App. 189] Officer Tucker handcuffed Pearce, and the officers placed Pearce in the back of Officer Tucker's patrol car. Other than indicating that his shoulder hurt, Pearce did not say anything to the officers, and he had a blank look on his face. Pearce was cooperative, but his silence and " weird look" struck Officer Tucker as odd.

While still at the Harrisons' residence, Officer Tomlinson retrieved Pearce's driver's license, which was wrapped in two notes. The first note read, " Tammy and kids, [not]

Page 497

your fault. I love you and always will." The second note, which was signed " Chris," read, " [Too] much PAIN. [Too] much [RIDICULE]. NO UNDERSTANDING. NO MORE PAIN. FORGIVE ME!" Although Officer Tomlinson stated in his supplemental police report that he and Officer Tucker reviewed the notes, at his deposition, Officer Tomlinson testified he believed he shared them with Officer Tucker at some point, but could not remember if it was at the Harrisons' or back at the station; he did not recall discussing the notes with Officer Tucker at all. Officer Tucker could not recall ...


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