The Huntsville City Council on Thursday voted 4-1 in favor of a $600,000 settlement with the family of an intellectually disabled man who claimed he was injured by two Huntsville Police Department (HPD) officers.
In May 2022, the co-guardians for Jefferey Burton filed a lawsuit claiming their brother was hospitalized after experiencing "unconstitutional violence" from two Huntsville officers.
The suit said Burton is a 36-year-old man with the mental capacity of a 6-year-old. It alleges he was prone to "wondering."
The encounter with HPD occurred nearly half a mile from Burton's residence at an apartment complex. The suit claims a security officer called HPD and told officers Burton appeared to have a "mental issue" or was "high on drugs."
The council voted to go into executive session to watch the video of the incident in another area not open to the public. After a brief delay, the council returned to take up the matter and voted 4-1 in favor of the settlement.
Council members Devyn Smith (District 1), David Little (District 2), Jennie Robinson (District 3), and Bill Kling (District 4) voted in favor of the settlement, and Councilman John Meredith (District 5) voted against it.
In a statement to 1819, Meredith said, "I found out about the settlement through local news coverage on Wednesday, which is totally unacceptable. I should have been informed well in advance by the Administration." He added, "In a meeting later that day with Administration officials, very little information was given to the council members and inadequate time was given to digest the information. I didn't feel comfortable voting for something I was uneducated on, and the citizens of Huntsville deserve better. They deserve a well-informed council armed with all the facts."
Smith also spoke briefly on the issue before the vote, asking that going forward, the Council be better informed of internal information. City administrator John Hamilton advised that as the City Council, they are the ultimate decision-makers for appeals to personnel decisions, and they must, therefore, remain unbiased. Hamilton said he would work with the City attorney to figure out if there was a solution to his concerns.
Huntsville City officials said the behavior of the officers was unacceptable, and the officers involved were disciplined and given additional training before returning to duty. However, the City says the settlement does not mean there is an admission of liability by either party involved.
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