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January 11, 2003

Detroit faces $100 million lawsuit over severed finger

From: Detroit News, MI - 11 Jan 2003

Fieger files on behalf of woman injured during arrest

By Associated Press

SOUTHFIELD -- Attorney Geoffrey Fieger filed a $100 million lawsuit Friday against the city of Detroit and a police officer on behalf of a woman whose finger was severed during an arrest.

The suit was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court on behalf of Joni and William Gullas.

Gullas' left ring finger was severed at the top knuckle early Sunday when officer Anthony Johnson used a 4-inch knife to cut the sleeve off Gullas' jacket in an attempt to handcuff her. The fingertip was recovered but could not be reattached.

According to police reports, Johnson and two other plainclothes officers on a breaking and entering task force approached Gullas' van in a bar parking lot. Gullas, of Detroit, said she thought she was being carjacked when the officer approached. Officers said Gullas was resisting arrest.

Gullas has not been charged with a crime.

At a news conference in Fieger's Southfield office, Gullas also claimed hair was torn from her head in the melee.

"This was a vicious attack. It is hard to explain how a man capable of such violence carries a badge and a gun," Fieger said.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said of the suit: "The woman definitely deserves the right to representation. ... The issues will be resolved in the court of law, where they should."

Police are investigating the incident and on Tuesday asked prosecutors to file charges against Johnson. However, as of Friday afternoon prosecutors had not made a decision.

Johnson has been placed on desk duty.

"The department has no policies and procedures that would cause an officer to use a knife to make an arrest," Deputy Chief Gary Brown said. "We don't issue knives. We don't conduct any training that would involve a knife in the arrest of a subject."

This isn't the first time Johnson has drawn attention. He shot and killed a 79-year-old disabled woman during a ruckus in her home in 1998, police officials said.

The department and prosecutors ruled the killing was justified because the woman -- who was deaf, had arthritis and suffered dementia -- had lunged with a kitchen knife at Johnson and other officers who were trying to control a fight inside a Detroit home.

Cora Bell Jones' family sued the officers and the city, collecting a $350,000 settlement in 2001.

Copyright © 2003 The Detroit News.