GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — An attorney from Montgomery announced a lawsuit against Albertville, Boaz, and Guntersville for the wrongful death of a Marshall County man.
Mark Overall represents the family of Deonta Griffin, who died in January after a fall into the Tennessee River from the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Guntersville.
The 20-year-old led law enforcement officers on a high-speed chase on Highway 431 that started about 18 miles away in Boaz. Police said speeds topped 100 miles per hour.
Overall announced the lawsuit at a press conference at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Guntersville Tuesday morning, exactly five weeks after a search team found Griffin’s body.
“The police would have you believe that Mr. Griffin just simply chose to run from the police and then jumped from a bridge to his untimely death. That may be the case,” Overall said.
“However there’s also another version, another theory that Mr. Griffin, after the chase had ended, after he was stopped and after he exited his vehicle.
“That he was prompted, he was forced, he was compelled by the police, either with their weapons, with their batons, or with their dogs, that he was forced off the bridge.”
Overall said the family is trying to get proof of that in the form of dash camera videos from the Boaz, Albertville, and Guntersville Police vehicles involved in the pursuit of Griffin.
“In every patrol unit there is a working camera. I’ve talked to the various police chiefs, and they’ve all informed me that the cameras were working that day, that those patrol units did have cameras in those cars and that they were working. Every one we’ve asked for them, every time that I personally have asked for them, they’ve given us the runaround,” he said.
“They’ve said well talk to this person, talk to that person, talk to the district attorney’s office, talk to the department of public safety, talk to the chief. Where is the video?”
Marshall County District Attorney Steve Marshall said the Alabama Bureau of Investigation has the video footage, and that investigative files typically remain confidential until the investigation is complete. Marshall said this case remained open during the search for Griffin’s body, which the Guntersville Rescue Squad recovered April 23.
“One of the critical things was finding the body,” Marshall said.
“Are there any indications on the body that anything was done to him?”
Marshall said he expects the ABI to complete their investigation soon, following the autopsy conducted by the Department of Forensics. Prosecutors plan to present the findings of the investigation to a grand jury to determine if there is a need for any criminal charges, as is protocol since the death occurred during a law enforcement case.
Overall and Griffin’s family said they are trying to find answers, for themselves, for friends, for the community, and for Griffin’s two young children and their mothers.
They said Griffin had a January 10 court date for failure to appear, but denied earlier police statements that said Griffin was wanted on multiple charges. Boaz police said in January that Griffin was accused of domestic violence, and said the Sheriff’s Office also had warrants for a probation violation, theft of property, and at least one felony charge.
“This was not a young man that was engaged in criminal activity at the time,” Overall said.
“This was not a young man that was seeking to evade law enforcement. This was a young man who in his last minutes was scared. This was a young man who in his last minutes was calling his family to say ‘hey, police are behind me, I don’t know what to do’.”
Tiffany Segers, the mother of Griffin’s son, Deonta Jr., said Griffin called her to tell her that police were behind him, but did not give any indication of where he was.
“He told me he was scared and didn’t know what to do. He was just scared,” Segers said.
Overall and Griffin’s mother, Terron Dabbs, said the reason Griffin ran away from police was because he was beaten by officers during an arrest in 2012.
“Deonta, just a few months prior, was assaulted by police,” Overall said.
He was beaten to the point that he could not sign his own name on his bond forms, He was beaten to the point by law enforcement officers, possibly the same law enforcement officers that chased him the day of his death, that he was so afraid of police and so afraid of law enforcement that he felt he had no choice but to flee out of his own safety,” he said.
Dabbs said people who think Griffin should have stopped don’t know the whole story.
“Deonta was afraid for his life, he really was. Like [Overall] said, months prior to that, he was beat to death. He died. They tased him and everything. He died,” Dabbs said.
“He was afraid. If he hadn’t been afraid, I know he would have stopped. He was afraid. If none of that would have happened, I know he would have stopped,” Griffin’s mother said.
Overall said he is going to submit the wrongful death lawsuit in federal court. He said it is still in the drafting phase but should be filed in the next 30 to 45 days. The family plans to name the cities and police of Albertville, Boaz, and Guntersville as defendants, as well as the names of the individual officers. Overall said police have not released those names.
“I just feel like they were at fault, and they’re trying to hide things,” Griffin’s mother said.
“A lot of times they wouldn’t talk to me about things. They just kept giving me the run around, saying one couldn’t talk to me and I’d need to talk to another one. They just kept giving me the run around like they were trying to hide something. I just feel like they were wrong, that was wrong for them to do that,” she said.
Boaz Deputy Police Chief Todd Adams said it is departmental policy to decline to comment on any pending litigation.
Griffin’s father, Jeff Havis, is not involved in the lawsuit.