Judge dismisses Georgian’s claims against HPD officers

By HASKEL BURNS,

A federal judge has dismissed all claims made against three Hattiesburg Police Department officers by Gus Georgian and Pamela Hamilton, the two suspects in the 2016 murder of retired teacher Ann Georgian.

According to federal court documents, U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett dismissed June 5 the claims against officers Jeremy Dunaway, Michael Hoffer and Branden McLemore. Starrett denied the plaintiffs’ claims that their civil rights were violated by the officers, as their complaint failed to allege any facts to show that one of Hattiesburg’s customs or policies was the moving force behind the alleged constitutional violations.

“The complaint also does not allege any specific facts relating to a policy or custom, such as when it was adopted, the policymaker, or facts relating to how a policy or custom relates to the plaintiffs’ arrests,” a court document states. “The court should dismiss Branden McLemore, Michael Hoffer and Jeremy Dunaway in their official capacities because the complaint does not state a claim against them in such a capacity.”

Gus Georgian is the brother of Ann Georgian, who was found Sept. 1 in a wooded area off Hardy Street, near the administration offices of the Hattiesburg Public School District. Hamilton is Gus Georgian’s cousin.

Gus Georgian was arrested soon after and charged with his sister’s murder, while Hamilton was charged with hindering prosecution/rendering criminal assistance. On April 2, Gus Georgian and Hamilton filed suit against the three HPD officers, alleging constitutional rights violations arising from their wrongful arrests.

But Starrett ruled that a suit against the officers in their official capacity is essentially a suit against the City of Hattiesburg, and because the real party in interest is the governmental entity, “the entity’s policy or custom must have played a part in the violation of federal law.”

But in the plaintiffs’ suit, the word “policy” is found nowhere in the complaint.

“As to any ‘custom,’ plaintiffs have alleged in Paragraph 8 (of the complaint) that at all times the defendants were acting ‘under color of law, usage, and custom of the state of Mississippi,’” Starrett’s ruling reads. “This one allegation fails to allude in any way to the cause in fact required to be plead – how specific actions created the custom that was the ‘moving force’ behind the constitutional violation. This is not sufficient.”

Sixty-four-year-old Ann Georgian’s body was found when her family asked police to conduct a welfare check after not hearing from her for several days. Police were able to identity with her with assistance from the State Crime Lab in Jackson.

In May 2018, McLemore said a grand jury did not return indictments on Gus Georgian and Hamilton. The indictments were not returned – or “no-billed” – because grand jury members determined there was not enough physical evidence to bring the case to trial.

“So what that basically (means) is, we just don’t have enough evidence to prosecute them,” McLemore said in a previous story. “They’re still suspects. They have not been ruled out or anything like that; we just don’t have enough evidence.

“They’re not out on bond; once that grand jury comes back with a ‘no bill,’ at that time the charges basically do not proceed forward.”

Ryan Moore, public information officer with HPD, said Ann Georgian’s cause of death was blunt force trauma and strangulation.

“(Police) will just keep going on the investigation,” he said. “Nobody is ruled out as a suspect. They’re still just going to continue the investigation.”

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