Georgia woman challenges ‘qualified immunity’ after she says deputy sexually assaulted her

HARRIS COUNTY, Ga. — A woman said she is happy the deputy who sexually assaulted her during a traffic stop is behind bars. But she is not happy about something called qualified immunity, which is preventing his employers from being held responsible.

There is a push here in Atlanta and around the country to modify how qualified immunity is used. Lynette Christmas said she is Exhibit A why it should be changed.

“I still have nightmares about this. I have PTSD,” she told Channel 2′s Tom Jones.

Christmas said she will never forget the moment Harris County Deputy Thomas Pierson violated her in the worst way. “I can feel the day and what the air was like. The smell of the air. When he was dragging me up by the car,” she said.

The now-former deputy was convicted and given a sentence of 17 years (eight years in prison) for sexually assaulting Christmas on Valentine’s Day in 2016. He had stopped her and gave her a warning ticket for speeding. Then he stopped her again within minutes, and that’s when he attacked her.

“And as he was leaving, he told me he was going to kill me,” she recalled, adding he meant it if she told anyone.

Christmas sued Pierson, Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley and Harris County. A judge ruled in March the suit could not go forward.

“The sheriff is covered, and the county is covered under qualified immunity,” Christmas explained.

Qualified immunity protects governmental entities from lawsuits unless there is a clearly established constitutional violation.

Christmas said Pierson violated her rights during the attack. And she said the county and the sheriff are responsible because Pierson was accused of inappropriate conduct with other women during traffic stops. She also pointed out Pierson was involved in the death of a teen during a traffic stop.

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Christmas said there was a pattern of bad behavior the sheriff should have noticed and worked to prevent.

The court didn’t see it that way, ruling the sheriff and the county weren’t responsible for Pierson’s actions. Christmas believes qualified immunity needs to be revamped.

“I shouldn’t be responsible for the medical bills and the damage that was done to me,” she said.

Christmas is appealing the judge’s decision. She would like to see qualified immunity changed to all associated parties being responsible when an officer is convicted. She can sue Pierson individually, but she said he has no money or job since he is in prison.

The sheriff and the county did not respond to requests for comment.