Altercation Between Alabama Firefighter and Property Owner Prompts Civil Rights Suit

An altercation between an on-duty Alabama firefighter and a local property owner has led to a federal civil rights lawsuit naming the firefighter and the fire department as defendants. Dois Wayne Cordell filed suit against firefighter Michael Hammock, the City of Sumiton, the Sumiton Police Department and the Sumiton Fire Department.

The altercation occurred on May 20, 2021 and resulted in the arrest of Cordell. It began when Cordell got into a dispute with Hammock’s wife, Tammie. The facts as explained in the complaint are as follows:

  • On May 20, 2021, at approximately 8:00 a.m., and while located at 1499 Main Street in Sumiton, Alabama, Cordell was involved in a dispute with Tammie Hammock, regarding the placement of a shipping container and trash from her business (T&M Home Improvement Wholesale).
  • Ms. Hammock had a “moving day” for T&M Home Improvement Wholesale a few days prior and had left significant amounts of trash throughout the entrance of Cordell’s property.
  • During the conversation, Cordell became frustrated because the boundary line fence, which had been marking the property boundary for over forty (40) years, had been removed. The fence was erected at his direction, and he owned the land the fence was on.
  • In addition, he was frustrated because Ms. Hammock’s trash was cluttering and littering the entrance to his property.
  • Despite attempts to diffuse the situation and come to an understanding regarding the trash and fence, Ms. Hammock trespassed onto Cordell’s property and proceeded to assault him verbally and physically.
  • A struggle commenced, ending with Cordell spilling coffee on Ms. Hammock.
  • At said date and time and location, Sumiton’s Emergency Management System received a telephone call from Ms. Hammock regarding an altercation at her business with Cordell. Hammock, a Sumiton fire fighter, and husband of Ms. Hammock, while acting under the color and authority of his position as an employee of Sumiton, responded to the call.
  • At the time immediately preceding Hammock’s arrival, Cordell was lawfully on his property sitting in his vehicle and Ms. Hammock was on her property.
  • The altercation was over.
  • Hammock arrived in an official Sumiton vehicle. Upon arrival to a potential crime scene, the proper procedure for a fireman to follow is wait for the local police to secure the scene. Despite this procedural step, designed to keep all parties safe, Hammock choose to confront Cordell – a clear violation of procedure.
  • Hammock was mad up upon arrival to the scene.
  • In fact, he taunted Cordell by saying “here’s a man, assault me.”
  • The confrontation with Hammock placed Cordell in fear for his life, as Hammock proceeded to use unauthorized force against Cordell, to wit, Hammock physically and violently assaulted Cordell, by pushing him and hitting his chest multiple times. Hammock then pulled a gun and pointed it in a threatening manner at Cordell’s body and head. To the extent that any force was authorized, Hammock used excessive and unnecessary force against Cordell.
  • At said date and time and location, Cordell was then falsely arrested and wrongfully imprisoned by police officers from Sumiton. Sumiton’s Police Department failed to call another police jurisdiction to investigate a situation involving a colleague, friend, and co-employee. Cordell was taken to jail, placed in a prison uniform, held for several days, and deprived of his liberty.
  • Hammock was not disciplined for his assault of Cordell.
  • At no time was Cordell brought for an initial appearance or formally charged with a crime during his incarceration. Instead, Cordell suffered a medical emergency and was taken to the hospital. For an unexplained reason, Cordell was released by the police after his medical treatment at the hospital.
  • Sumiton chose, after the fact, to charge Cordell with assault.
  • While at the jail, the Police took his personal belonging, including a telephone and the keys to his truck, which was left in front of Cordell’s business at 1499 Main Street. Without a warrant, the police went back to the scene of the arrest, where Cordell’s truck was located, searched his vehicle, and removed a second telephone and a firearm, all in violation of his constitutional rights.
  • The Police unlawfully and illegally searched both telephones, without a warrant. To this date, the City has not returned Cordell’s property.
  • The City of Sumiton has been negligent in the hiring, training and retention of its employees and agents. The City, through his agents, committed assault, battery, conversion, false imprisonment, and violated Cordell’s constitutional rights and discriminated against Cordell based on his age and gender.

The complaint alleges assault, battery, conversion, false imprisonment, and violations of Cordell’s Fourth Amendment rights under 42 USC §1983. Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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