Lloyd Bell and Brian Trulock deliver their opening statements at trial against Agnes Scott College, accused of responsibility for the false arrest and imprisonment of a woman on sexual assault charges.
Decatur, GA—An Atlanta-area women’s college is responsible for a reckless police investigation and abuse of power that led to a woman’s wrongful arrest and imprisonment on a baseless charge of sexual assault, the woman’s lawyer claimed as trial opened Tuesday against the school. Hartley v. Agnes Scott College, 11A36461-4.
“Agnes Scott [College] abused its power through its police force, and they victimized an innocent person, and have caused her life to be turned upside down,” The Bell Law Firm’s Lloyd Bell told jurors. “[Agnes Scott officials] have lied about it. There’s no clean way to say it. They haven’t told the truth.”
Bell represents Amanda Hartley, who claims Agnes Scott College police, led by Lt. Gaetano Antinozzi, ignored basic protocol and withheld information when investigating a 2009 claim Hartley sexually assaulted an Agnes Scott student.
Hartley claims she was wrongfully arrested, imprisoned, held in solitary confinement, and forced to endure physical abuse at the hands of Antinozzi before evidence showed she was not in Atlanta when the student claimed the assault occurred.
The complaint and arrest were ultimately expunged from Hartley’s record, but Hartley, who had been a UT graduate student at the time she was arrested, was expelled from the school.
Bell, who said he would request damages "in the millions," told jurors Hartley continues to suffer from her imprisonment. “She’s been out of jail now for over six years. But she’s in jail every moment of the day. There’s not an hour of her life that goes by where she does not remember her experience in jail, the degradation,” Bell said. “That feeling of hopelessness when she didn’t know when one day began and the other ended. And it’s going to be with her the rest of her life.”
Antinozzi’s investigation and the motivation behind his conduct will likely play a central role in the trial. During his opening statement, Bell told jurors Antinozzi, who wrote three books on criminal investigation, forensics, and campus safety, failed to follow even basic investigative protocol. Bell said simply questioning Hartley before seeking an arrest warrant would have proven she was in Tennessee at the time of the alleged assault in Georgia. “[Antinozzi] talks about that in [one of] his book[s],” Bell said. “You don’t just take the word of one person and run with it. You talk to both parties. Of course, we know you do that. It’s just basic fairness. But he never afforded that fairness to Amanda.”
Bell added that Antinozzi compounded lapses in the investigation by failing to disclose to a magistrate medical reports concluding the Agnes Scott student showed no signs of assault-related trauma.
But the defense contends the student’s allegations supported Antinozzi’s decision to seek an arrest warrant. During Tuesday’s openings, Bendin, Sumrall & Ladner’s Brian Trulock said the student told Antinozzi she was in a romantic relationship with Hartley and she feared for her safety in the wake of the assault she described. “[Antinozzi] had an obligation to seek an arrest warrant in order to initiate the criminal justice process and break the cycle of violence,” Trulock said.
Trulock walked jurors through Antinozzi’s investigation and told jurors two separate judges found probable cause to support Hartley’s arrest, based on the student’s allegations and photographs of bruising. After the arrest warrant was issued, Trulock said, Agnes Scott had no control over what happened to Hartley.
Trulock also questioned Hartley’s credibility. “You are going to hear a lot during this case about the impact this arrest has had on the plaintiff,” Trulock said. “Ask yourself, during the course of this trial, if you believe the plaintiff is being completely honest with you about everything she says happened. And if you don’t believe it, ask yourself what is she withholding from you, and why.”
The parties dispute the relationship that preceded the student’s assault claim. While the student claims she and Hartley were involved in a romantic relationship that turned violent, Bell told jurors the two women were never romantically involved and the abuse claims followed Hartley’s rejection of the student’s advances. However, Trulock told jurors the truth of the students’ relationship, and the truth of the sexual assault claims, were irrelevant to the jury’s ultimate decision. “The only thing that matters is whether Lt. Antinozzi, at the time these undisputedly serious allegations of sexual and physical violence were presented to him, whether he found those allegations to be credible. And if he did, then he acted within the bounds of the law.”
Individual Agnes Scott officers, including Antinozzi, are not defendants at trial in this case.
Founded in 1889, Agnes Scott College is a women’s liberal arts college with about 900 students on its Decatur, Georgia campus, according to its website.
Trial in the case is expected to last about a week. CVN will cover the trial’s progress via the news blog and will provide gavel-to-gavel video as soon as possible after the verdict.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amanda Hartley is represented by The Bell Law Firm’s Lloyd Bell.
Agnes Scott College is represented by Bendin, Sumrall & Ladner’s David Ladner and Brian Trulock.
CVN will provide gavel-to-gavel video of the trial as soon as possible after the verdict.
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