Atlanta—An altercation that began in the parking lot of a Mexican bar/restaurant in Cumming in July, 2010, ended in Fulton County State Court this week when, following a bench trial, Judge Jay Roth entered a judgment against the two remaining defendants in the case. Jacqueline Shelley v. Douglas Todd Laponzina and Desiree Anglin (12EV015068).
According to documents filed in the case and evidence presented at trial, the altercation took place at approximately 10:30 pm on July 5, 2010, at Cinco Mexican Cantina in Cumming, GA. Shelley was a patron in the restaurant that evening, as were, in a separate group, Laponzina, Anglin, and Casey Denmark, who was formerly a defendant in the case.
Following the incident, Shelley was taken to a local hospital for treatment, where the staff used four staples to close a severe cut to her head. That night, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department began a criminal investigation into the matter, and Laponzina, Anglin, and Denmark were later arrested. Laponzina pled guilty to battery and criminal trespass with damage and, in addition to serving time in jail and paying a fine, was ordered to pay restitution to Shelley. Anglin and Denmark entered into a pre-trial diversion program.
Subsequent to the events giving rise to the current suit, Laponzina was arrested in April, 2015, in Fulton County on unrelated charges in a case that attracted national attention. Laponzina was charged in the more recent case with aggravated assault and impersonating a police officer when he allegedly used a shotgun to threaten three skateboarders near his home. He is currently scheduled to enter a plea in that case in Fulton County Superior Court.
Shelley originally filed suit against two corporate entities associated with Cinco in addition to the three individuals. Prior to trial, she settled with the corporate entities for $25,000. On the morning the trial was scheduled to begin, Shelley also reached a settlement with Casey Denmark for $12,500.
At trial, the parties’ description of the altercation varied greatly. Shelley testified that when she left the bar, she had to walk past Anglin and Denmark to get to her car. She recognized the two by their loud conduct in the bar earlier and stated that they appeared to be intoxicated. Shelley said that Anglin and Denmark shouted obscenities at her, but she did not respond. However, when she arrived at her car, Denmark ran at her and tried to push the door shut.
Shelley then said she began wrestling with Denmark, at which time Anglin jumped from the adjacent car onto her back, after which she and Anglin fell to the ground. Shelley further testified that Laponzina then arrived, jumped on top of her and slammed her head onto the asphalt parking lot, causing the cut. Then, Laponzina got on her chest and held her down with his hands on her throat. While this was occurring, Anglin was holding her legs down. Shelley added that the defendants also used pepper spray on her. Eventually, Anglin got up and pulled Laponzina off, shouting at Shelley, “Have you had enough?” Shelley further testified that, after she got into her car and prepared to leave, Laponzina angrily hit the car window with his fist several times and kicked the side of her car.
Both Anglin and Laponzina were called to testify by plaintiff’s counsel as part of Shelley’s case in full (the defense did not call any witnesses, including the two defendants, in its own case). According to Anglin, she and Denmark left the bar together and were waiting in the parking lot for Laponzina, who was paying the bill. While there, an argument broke out between Denmark and Shelley who was some distance away. Shelley began cursing and then approached Denmark and Anglin. Shelley continued cursing and then headed to her car, a couple of spaces away from where Anglin and Denmark were standing. Anglin recognized Shelley from earlier than evening in the bar and stated that Shelley had a problem with Anglin’s group.
Anglin acknowledged that Denmark tried to push Shelley’s car door shut, but then continued that Shelley jumped out of the car and tried to attack Denmark. Anglin said she intervened and began wrestling with Shelley. Anglin said it was hard for her to run away when someone was about to get hurt. She added that she and Shelley fell to the ground as they struggled, and Shelley began flailing around wildly. Laponzina arrived at that time and tried to restrain Shelley, as did Anglin. Denmark also used pepper spray on Shelley to try to make the plaintiff quit fighting. According to Anglin, Shelley herself hit her head on the asphalt while trying to struggle. She admitted asking Shelley if the plaintiff had “had enough” but said she did so in an effort to get the plaintiff to stop fighting. Anglin also said she called the police the next day to report the incident.
Laponzina corroborated the portions of Anglin’s story that he witnessed. He said that when he arrived in the parking lot after paying the tab that Shelley was “bucking and clawing wildly,” and he felt that the plaintiff was drunk or on drugs. He acknowledged holding his hands on Shelley’s throat for about ten seconds to hold her down. He said that he, Anglin, and Denmark were in a “self-preservation mode.” Laponzina also accused Shelley of threatening his life and that Shelley or a family member had sent threats to him later.
The plaintiff also introduced into evidence the deposition of Jeffrey Robertson, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office investigator in the case. He reported arriving at the crime scene about an hour after the incident and noticing a substantial pool of blood where Shelley’s head injury occurred. He also reported finding Laponzina’s fingerprints and shoe print on Shelley’s car. He interviewed Shelley that night at the hospital and said the plaintiff was upset but did not appear drunk or intoxicated.
Robertson also interviewed Laponzina, Anglin, and Denmark, who gave substantially the same version of the incident as testified to at trial. In Robertson’s opinion, the three were deceptive and not honest, and their statements did not correspond with the physical evidence. He concluded that Anglin and Denmark were the aggressors in the incident and that the “only thing they feel sorry for is that they got caught.”
In his closing statement, Shelley’s attorney Kyle Koester said the case was about “the basic rules that we live by. Rules like be polite, be nice, don’t lie, take responsibility for your actions.” He continued that Anglin, Denmark, and Laponzina hadn’t done any of those for the last five years since the incident. Before suggesting various amounts for damages, he asked “How do you make someone humanly whole when they’ve had inhumane things done to them? …How do you justify four staples? How do you justify slamming a 45-year-old mother’s leg in a car door and pass it off as ‘we were just trying to help her on her way’?” Koester also noted that every contention the plaintiff had made at trial was corroborated by Detective Robertson’s deposition regarding his investigation.
Laponzina and Anglin appeared pro se in the case. In his closing statement, Laponzina called the case a matter of how a “violent and aggressive person who comes from a culture of violence perceived her actions and the words and actions of those around her.” He said the defendants “stood their ground in the face of an aggressor and suffered mental, physical, financial, and emotional pain and distress, and we’ve been persecuted for it.” He noted that he had paid tens of thousands of dollars already to the state and the plaintiff. He added that he had taken responsibility, spending a month in jail. Anglin stated that she was defending herself against the plaintiff and had wrongly been accused of being responsible.
Judge Jay Roth rendered a verdict for Shelley in the case. He first determined the amount of compensatory damages to be $100,000 with no punitive damages. He then offset this amount by $37,500, the amounts previously paid by the former defendants. He also apportioned 70% of the fault to Laponzina, 10% to Anglin, and 20% to the plaintiff. As a result, the final judgment was $43,750 against Laponzina and $6,250 against Anglin, for a total of $50,000.
After the case, Shelley’s attorney Kyle Koester told CVN: “We appreciate the Court allowing us to share our client's story. While naturally we wanted more for our client, we find comfort knowing the verdict is well above any settlement offered. We pray that Ms. Shelley can move forward and continue to raise three outstanding young men. Hopefully between the criminal convictions and civil award these defendants have learned that their conduct is not tolerated in our community." Defendants Laponzina and Anglin could not be reached for comment.
Steve Silver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attorneys involved in the case include Kyle Koester of Woodstock and Alex Manning of Atlanta's Hughes and Manning for Jacqueline Shelley. Defendants Douglas Laponzina and Desiree Anglin appeared pro se.
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