Mayor says city acted on woman's mistreatment claim

April 27, 2013 

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson released documents Friday tracking the city’s response to a 76-year-old woman who claimed mistreatment by a city employee after falling on a sidewalk.

Ruth Parris made her accusation at a discrimination forum held at the Columbus Public Library Thursday night. It was recorded by Suzanne Buchanan, a conciliation specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organized the event.

Parris said she wrote a letter to the mayor, City Manager Isaiah Hugley, U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop, Gov. Nathan Deal and the NAACP complaining of mistreatment by a risk management employee. The only one to respond to the letter was the governor, Parris said. He told her it was not in his jurisdiction, but she should pursue the case.

Tomlinson released documents, including the Jan. 10 letter Parris wrote to public officials. In the letter, Parris said she was walking on a sidewalk in front of the Columbus Recorder’s Court at 702 10th Street. Her feet got caught in uneven pavement, causing her to stumble and fall. She was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where she was treated for 10 hours. Her injuries included blunt trauma to the head; a fractured hand; and knee and shoulder injuries, she wrote.

Parris said she filed an accident report with the city on Dec. 17, and a city investigator visited her home that same day to take her statement and review photos. He told her to call risk management the next day, and she did.

Parris said she spoke to Noa Young, a risk management employee, who made her feel like a “second-class citizen.” She said Young questioned why she was calling and told her the city had nothing to do with the accident and “nothing was going to be done to fix the area just because I fell there.”

At the forum, Parris said she asked who could she speak to and Young said: “Nobody ma’am. You can’t talk to nobody in Muscogee County.”

“My concern is that I have been gravely mistreated and I feel like I have no rights, as indicated by a city employee of Columbus,” she said in the letter to public officials and the NAACP. “As a long-time citizen of Columbus, I deserve an answer as to why I have been treated so (inhumane).”

On Friday, the mayor said Parris filed notice with the city on Jan. 31 that she intended to sue. It was referred to Page Scrantom, the city’s legal counsel, who denied her claim in a letter dated Feb. 20.

The mayor also released emails written by Risk Manager Anne-Marie Amiel that explained the department’s version of Parris’ conversation with Young. Amiel said she called Parris after the incident and explained to her that Young wasn’t trying to be rude.

In her email, Amiel told the mayor Young was sitting in for another employee who was away for the holidays. She has a much lower voice than the employee “and probably comes across as more gruff,” she said in the email. “I did in fact keep my word to Mrs. Parris and I talked to Noa about the fact that her direct style and low tone might come across to someone who was hurting as abrupt.”

On Friday, the mayor also released a letter that Amiel sent to Parris Jan. 4. In the letter, Amiel empathized with Parris’ fall and thanked her for reporting the problem. She said the sidewalk where she fell was new and she apparently fell while trying to walk across two of the larger pavers.

“Your advising us of your concerns is greatly appreciated,” she said, “because it will help the department responsible for monitoring this work to know what to look out for to prevent any future incidents.”

Tomlinson said she is glad to see that Ms. Parris was communicated with on several occasions by the city.

“I’m sorry that she ever felt frustrated or disrespected,” she said. “I will be following up to make sure Ms. Parris knows that she is important to us even though her claim has been denied.”

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