KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — A Kingsport woman who claims Sullivan County deputies injured her during a May 2021 arrest is suing the county, the sheriff’s department and several deputies for $5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.
Robin Fritz, represented by Knoxville attorney James Friauf, filed the suit in federal court in Greeneville Friday. It also names Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable and Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy as well as deputies Brandon Harer and Raven Munz of the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.
The 34-count lawsuit alleges that two deputies and a constable, but Harer in particular, unlawfully arrested her after being called to the home of an 18-year-old male neighbor she had followed home after, according to the suit, he had tailgated her, passed her illegally and nearly caused her to wreck.
The suit was filed 10 days after charges against Fritz surrounding the May 22, 2021 incident were dropped. Harer filed charges of assault, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and evading arrest six days after the incident.
Harer’s affidavit of complaint against Fritz, filed May 22, 2021, claims she resisted arrest and wouldn’t provide identification after he responded to Munz’s request for backup “due to the female being irrate (sic) and attempting to leave the scene.”
The case was dismissed without prejudice with costs taxed to the state and labeled as “no witness present, no extenuating circumstances” in the judgment.
The lawsuit claims that Harer and others used unnecessary force against Fritz, who was booked on the charges May 22 and released on her own recognizance. It says that while Harer, Munz, constable Rodger Jones and others mistreated and injured her, booking deputies and an EMT were sympathetic and noticed her injuries.
After her release, the suit says, Fritz went to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a heart attack, pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure.
The diagnosis also included “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” which “is stress-induced and manifests itself with symptoms that include pulmonary edema and cardiogenic shock with hypotension.” Fritz was admitted to intensive care the day of her arrest and spent five days there, the suit says.
The suit cites the 14th and 4th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and claims unreasonable seizure and lack of probable cause for arrest. It claims that after Fritz initially spoke to deputies in front of her young neighbor’s home — where she claims she had come to complain to his parents about his driving — they followed her to her own home.
There, the suit alleges, deputies first argued with Fritz when she asked them to wear face masks due to COVID-19 concerns, and then Harer later tackled Fritz when she tried to walk away and speak to her neighbors.
The suit says Harer was intimidating and hostile toward her when she was in front of her home and that she decided to go to a male neighbor’s house and Harer “shadowed” her and demanded to know what she was doing.
“Ms. Fritz responded that, during his brief and initial encounter with her, as a 61-year-old woman residing alone (her husband lives and works in Chicago), Deputy Harer was ‘scaring her,'” the suit states. “Ms. Fritz explained that she was going to seek the presence of her male neighbor for support and safety. Additionally, she stated that a simple request of Deputy Munz and Deputy Harer to don facial masks unnecessarily caused friction and hostility,” the suit continues.
The suit then says though Harer didn’t tell her she couldn’t leave or was under arrest, that after she stated her intentions and concerns, he shouted that she was under arrest and “instantly tackled Ms. Fritz to the ground without warning,” then pinned her to the ground.
The suit lists numerous alleged physical assaults by Harer and says that while she was handcuffed and in a squad car Constable Jones ripped the mask off her face.
According to the suit, both the deputies and constable each “parroted” one another in their response to Fritz’s request that they don masks. The lawsuit states that each of them gave the following reply:
“I do not have to wear a mask. I go by what [Mayor] Venable and [Governor] Lee say, not [President] Biden.”
It also claims Fritz asked for the air conditioning to be turned on in the car and said told Harer she had a heart murmur but none of her requests were granted en route to the jail. It says she was later diagnosed with additional heart problems following the arrest, then spent three days in ICU and wasn’t able to return to work until June 21, 2021.
The suit cites extensive medical expenses, economic loss, physical injury and psychological and emotional damage, humiliation and continuing nightmares of the events of May 22, 2021.
“Ms. Fritz now fears of law enforcement as a result of the (apparently) politically motivated police brutality to which she was subjected,” the suit claims.
The suit requests $5 million in compensatory damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss or impairment of future earning capacity and several other claims.
Because the defendants’ actions “were intentional, fraudulent, malicious, and/or reckless and were with conscious disregard for Ms. Fritz’s constitutional rights,” the suit requests a minimum of $25 million in punitive damages.
A Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Monday afternoon he was unaware of the suit. He did, however, confirm that Harer is still employed with the sheriff’s office.
Calls to Fritz’s attorney were not returned.