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"Assault by panic attack" case falls flat in Tennessee

If you give a police officer a panic attack, is that a crime? A prosecutor in Sevier County thought so.

The jury, however, disagreed.

It's a case that requires some logistical acrobatics to understand:

  • Police officers were called to a trailer park to assist paramedics with an unrelated incident.
  • A police officer saw a resident of the park and decided she might be a fugitive based on her hair color.
  • He hid, drew his gun, jumped out of hiding and ordered her on the ground.
  • The woman (who is mentally challenged) panicked, ran, got tackled and was on the ground as she was arrested.
  • During her arrest, the woman's fiance approached and loudly announced he was filming the whole scene and pulled out a camera.
  • The police officer had a panic attack and fired seven rounds over the head of the woman and a paramedic.
  • Convinced the police officer was having a heart attack, other officers arrested the man and woman for assault by panic attack.

Eventually, the felony charges against the woman were dismissed because the court in that county held her illegally for 42 days. Felony cases are guaranteed a hearing within 10 days if the defendant is unable to afford bail.

The prosecution, however, seemed determined to forge ahead and get some kind of conviction in the case anyhow. Unable to convict her of resisting arrest, the prosecution charged her with attempted resisting arrest. A judge has since declared that charge to be nonsensical and voided her conviction. A jury declared the man in the case innocent of the "panic attack assault" as well.

For his part, the officer who had the panic attack was forced to resign. During the investigation into the circumstances of the case, it was discovered that he'd hidden the fact that he'd been dismissed from another police force for a variety of offenses -- including waving his gun over the head of another officer, assaulting his wife and lying to his chief.

Cases like this illustrate how hard law enforcement will sometimes dig in its heels to gain a conviction -- even when the whole story seems absurd. If you're facing charges in a criminal case in Montgomery County, make sure that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side to protect you against such abuses of power.

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