A Muscogee jury this week awarded $150,000 to a 23-year-old woman who claimed a local bonding company falsely imprisoned her by taking her to jail on a theft case she already had resolved.
But attorneys for Susan Abercrombie, owner of Abercrombie Bonding, say they plan to appeal.
Attorney David Helmick of Waldrep, Mullin and Callahan said also that he was pleased the jury found the company owner had only “minimal liability” for the actions of a bondsman she subsequently dismissed.
The jury said Susan Abercrombie personally was responsible for 16.66 percent of the award, and her company had to pay the other 83.34 percent.
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Represented by Christopher Breault of The Breault Firm based in Athens, Ga., Chantevia Bell claimed false imprisonment and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” for being handcuffed and hauled to jail on Sept. 28, 2013.
According to court records, she had been charged in the May 4, 2013, theft of a Cadillac DeVille from a man on Wright Drive. Arrested the following July, she bonded out through Abercrombie on Aug. 1, 2013.
That Aug. 27, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years’ probation.
One of the co-signers on her bond was Nathaniel Morgan, her grandmother’s boyfriend. According to Abercrombie’s testimony, Morgan called Abercrombie the following Sept. 28 to say Bell was violating the terms of her bond and he wanted it revoked.
Abercrombie said she contacted Michael Scott Cramer, who worked for her as a bondsman, and told him to get Bell. Cramer tried to find someone to accompany him, but no one would, so he asked Abercrombie to go, and she did.
They went to the Matilda Lane house where Bell sometimes stayed with her grandmother, handcuffed her, put her in Cramer’s car and took her to the Muscogee County Jail.
Along the way, Bell insisted she no longer was under bond because her case was over.
According to Cramer’s testimony, he and Abercrombie went from the jail to the company office, where he checked the status of Bell’s case online and realized she no longer was under bond.
Cramer said he informed Abercrombie, and she told him to let the sheriff figure it out. The bondsman said he disregarded her orders, returned to the jail and had Bell freed. When he got back to the office, Abercrombie fired him for disobeying her, he said.
Abercrombie in court claimed it was Cramer’s responsibility to check on Bell’s case before picking her up. Abercrombie said Cramer had after-hours online access to the system that tracks cases, but she did not.
That’s why she afterward discontinued his services and collected his company equipment, she said. Cramer later went to work for a rival bonding company.Breault said Abercrombie’s attorneys tried to get the jury to hold Cramer solely responsible for what happened to Bell: “Their whole strategy was about blaming Cramer.”
But Abercrombie as the company owner not only was Cramer’s boss, but an active participant in detaining Bell, he said: “It was completely her fault.”
Breault said he came in on the case late, as attorney Michael Garner filed the claim and assisted Breault in closing arguments.
Told Abercrombie would appeal, Breault said: “I’d love to try the case again and be better prepared.”