False Arrest and Malicious Prosecution Lawsuit Results in $700,000 Settlement

After a midnight police raid ended with a restaurant manager and her fiancé handcuffed and kept in jail for almost three days, the couple sued the city for malicious prosecution. The city of Morrow, Georgia has now agreed to settle the manager’s suit for $700,000.

Tiffany Donley, the owner of Cheerleaders Sports Café, and her fiancé Tony Mathis, an attorney, were brought in on charges of nearly two dozen violations of the city code. While the citations were all eventually dropped, the restaurant was forced to close as a result of the “campaign of harassment,” according to the suit.

The settlement involved only Donley’s claims. Mathis has a separate case that is still pending in a federal court. He is one of several “organizers” of the limited liability company (LLC) that owned Cheerleaders and leased the property and is also an attorney. Mathis’ law license was suspended at the time of the raid but has been reinstated.

This case is the third in a series involving a former Morrow police detective accused of orchestrating flawed arrests; they have cost the city’s insurance company more than $950,000. Another case settled for $250,000, and a third, with the insurer, rather than the city, representing the officer, settled for an undisclosed amount.

The night of the raid, June 20, 2010, began with at least five police cars arriving at Cheerleaders at midnight. Sgt. Curtis Turner, the former city detective, and the other officers entered the establishment and instructed all of the customers to leave the building, where the officers tested them for alcohol. They then asked Donley and Mathis questions about the ratio of their sales of food to alcohol.

The two told the officers that they did not have that information and that the owners that could provide that information were not present that night. Donley and Mathis were then put in handcuffs and taken to the police station where they were given 23 citations each for code violations. Bond was set at $28,750 each and they were released on June 22.

The complaint alleges that the couple then faced undue legal hurdles at the hands of the city. Mathis even filed a Judicial Qualifications Commission complaint against Judge John DeFoor alleging that he “refused to allow Mathis to represent himself and have access to the courts,” a violation of his constitutional rights.

A new judge was reassigned the case, Chief Judge Ronald Freeman, but the case faced further unnecessary delays.

Bailey and Mathis filed suit against the city, Clayton County, Judge Freeman, Sgt. Turner, and several other officials in August 2012, alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and violations of their constitutional and civil rights.

Donley eventually agreed to the $700,000 settlement on November 25, 2013, but Mathis refused to participate in the negotiations and his case remains open.