If Cindy Gardner is asked to put her hand on the Bible this month in an Iredell County courtroom, she’ll be using a permanently disabled left arm, her new federal lawsuit claims.
Gardner, a Mooresville health care worker, faces an April 18 court hearing on a misdemeanor charge of resisting an officer. This week, she filed a complaint against the same cop who arrested her two years ago.
She accuses Mooresville police Sgt. Russell Clark of angrily and illegally pulling Gardner from her apartment and throwing her to the ground. When he prepared to handcuff her, according to the lawsuit, Clark jerked and twisted Gardner’s arms backward with such force that he fractured her left arm, an injury that required surgery.
A photograph following the operation, which is included in the complaint, shows a serpentine arc of surgical staples running from Gardner’s left shoulder to just above her elbow.
Gardner’s alleged crime on the night of April 8, 2020, did not involve threats, violence or active resistance to the officer, her lawsuit claims.
Instead, the 5-foot-3, 105-pound defendant says Clark turned physical after she failed to produce an ID while she stood in her home.
Her court filing accuses Clark and the Iredell County town of excessive force, assault and battery, and violations of Gardner’s constitutional protections under the Fourth and 14th amendments from unreasonable search and seizures, and due process under the law, respectively.
Mooresville police attorney Pat Flanagan of Charlotte did not respond to Observer emails Wednesday seeking comment. Spokeswoman Megan Suber said the town would not comment “as the plaintiff has pending criminal charges in connection with the suit.
Gardner’s attorney, Will Smith of Raleigh, declined comment.
Clark was the Mooresville Police Department’s “Officer of the Year” in 2020, and was credited with saving two lives in 2021.
Gardner’s lawsuit, however, adds Clark to a growing list of police defendants under legal scrutiny for their use of handcuffs, a law enforcement staple. In February, for example, a former Hickory police sergeant was sentenced to three years in federal prison for body-slamming a handcuffed woman after a parking dispute.
Two years ago this month, Gardner, then 49, called Mooresville police at 9:15 on a Wednesday night to complain about the noise outside her apartment complex and the potential spread of COVID-19, the lawsuit claims.
Clark turned up at her door. According to the lawsuit, the conversation turned testy almost from the start.
When she asked him if the town had curfew, Clark said no, then walked to his patrol car. Gardner followed. This time, she asked if he would enforce a community rule for 10 p.m. quiet time. Clark, according to the lawsuit, “rudely refused the request.”
Just before 9:30, he came back to Gardner’s apartment. By this time, a group of people was standing in the breezeway outside of her front door. She stood in the doorway.
According to the lawsuit, a female bystander told the officer “She just kicked them,” referring to Gardner. Gardner told the officer that the allegation was not true.
“I need your information,” Clark told Gardner.
Unsure of what Clark wanted, according to the lawsuit, Gardner invited him into her apartment to talk.
This time, according the lawsuit, Clark yelled at Gardner to bring her driver’s license to the door.
Instead of complying, Gardner says she got a cigarette, tried to “engage in a civil conversation” with Clark and told him she was “tired of all the noise.”
The back and forth briefly continued until Clark began yelling: “Give me your license or you will go to jail,” the lawsuit claims.
Before Gardner could comply, Clark — without a warrant — reached into the apartment, pulled her out of her home and pushed her to the ground, according to the complaint. He then began to handcuff the woman. Gardner says she did not resist.
Nonetheless, Gardner claims Clark acted “with such aggression and force” that he popped her shoulder out of joint and broke the bone in her upper left arm. She remained handcuffed in the back seat of his patrol car until Clark ordered another officer to take her to a local hospital. An EMS unit was never called, the lawsuit claims.
Gardner says the injury has left her arm permanently disabled. Her lawsuit accuses Clark of using an “unreasonable” level of force that another officer in the same situation would have deemed excessive.
Other recent lawsuits have made the same claim:
▪ Last year, a Charlotte driver sued a Mooresville police officer and the town, claiming that he smashed her window with his billy club during a 2018 traffic stop, dragged her out through the opening and threw her onto the broken glass after she struggled to hand over her registration card. The case was settled last May.
▪ In a December complaint, the widow of Mooresville resident Chris Craven accused two police officers of fatally shooting her husband outside the couple’s home as he attempted to comply with their orders to get on the ground and drop his weapon. Police had been called to the residence after Craven threatened to kill himself. A special prosecutor cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing in June. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in March 2023.