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November 24, 2009 - Judge Considers Ruling on Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A Houston County judge is taking under advisement the request by Dothan city officials to have a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city dismissed.

Circuit Court Judge Larry Anderson heard lengthy arguments by attorneys on Monday morning on a motion for summary judgment in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against the City of Dothan, its police department and Southern Family Markets. Anderson said he would likely make his ruling on the lawsuit after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Mary Downing filed a wrongful death lawsuit in February 2007, alleging police officers should have arrested Tabitha Farmer on a driving under the influence charge on the evening of Jan. 13, 2007. Later in the same evening, Farmer's vehicle struck and killed Larry Downing in the grocery store's parking lot.

Farmer blacked out and crushed the 60-year-old Downing up against the South Family Market building. Earlier this year, Farmer pleaded guilty to murder in the fatality, and was sentenced to serve 25 years in prison. Prosecutors charged Farmer with murder because she was under the influence of an inhalant after she'd apparently been "huffing" in the car.

The lawsuit filed by Downing's attorney contends Farmer should have been arrested earlier in the evening during a police traffic stop near downtown Dothan. Instead police let her go.

Court records show Dothan City Attorney Len White said the police officers at the traffic stop would have abused their police authority had they arrested Farmer because they did not believe her to be under the influence. White also said that had a warrant for Farmer's arrest been necessary, it would not have been granted because of a lack of probable cause.

According to court records, Jones asked for the summary judgment to be denied because Dothan Police Officer RaeMonica Carney said she believed Farmer to be under the influence at the time of the traffic stop. Jones submitted to the court that there was evidence the officers knew or should have known Farmer had been driving under the influence.

The lawsuit was filed against the grocery store because it contends Farmer called her friend who was working at the grocery on the evening of the fatality, and said she was on her way to visit her at work. The lawsuit contends her friend knew Farmer was under the influence when she was on her way to the store.

Carney filed a complaint with the county and city against White and former Dothan Police Chief John Powell, alleging witness intimidation and criminal coercion against her from an interview involving the Downing lawsuit.

The Houston County District Attorney's Office and the City of Dothan found no wrongdoing by the parties involved in the complaint filed by Carney.

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