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Officials: Duluth woman Tased during four-hour standoff

DULUTH -- A Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department SWAT team member Tased a Duluth woman reluctant to leave her foreclosed home this week following a tense, four-hour standoff, officials confirmed Thursday.

Sheriff's Department officials called the measure necessary, in that the home's occupant, Nova Lee Graber, became violent with authorities as they tried to remove her and her husband, Howard. Acquaintances of the couple are calling foul.

A friend of the couple said the encounter left Graber with a fractured shoulder, sprained wrist and bruising -- claims Sheriff's Department officials denied.

Using a Taser "was the best viable option with her, when she's fighting like that," said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais. "It was the best option for that situation, to prevent further injury."

Graber was transported to an area hospital when she complained of chest pains at the scene. She was evaluated, released and processed into jail on misdemeanor obstruction charges.

"There were no injuries related to this incident," Bourbonnais said.

Snellville resident Martin Benjamin, who described himself as the Grabers' friend, said the couple told him SWAT team members broke through their bedroom door and Tased the woman in the stomach area before handcuffing her.

Much of the incident at the Davenport Park Lane home, which spanned four hours beginning Wednesday morning, was recorded on audio and videotape, Benjamin said.

"At the end of the day, the only thing they were asking for ... was a jury trial," Benjamin said. "That's what they were fighting for, their rights. It led to a SWAT team breaking in their house."

Nova Lee Graber was released from the Gwinnett County Jail on her own recognizance about five hours after the ordeal. Her husband followed Thursday afternoon.

The couple plans to lean on friends and family for lodging, and friends have transferred their belongings to storage, Benjamin said.

Benjamin volunteers for an Atlanta-based citizen activist group called Project Rise Up, which aims to expose corruption in law enforcement and government systems. He said the Grabers' case will be addressed during a demonstration and march planned for Aug. 27 in Washington D.C.

Sheriff Butch Conway backed the actions of his deputies Thursday.

"I'd be violating my oath of office if I decided not to complete (eviction orders)," Conway said. "As much as we hate doing it, it's part of the job."

Friends and neighbors said the Grabers had lived in the home more than 10 years. They recently fell behind on mortgage payments when Howard Graber suffered a debilitating stroke and had to forfeit a lucrative career in software sales.

The Grabers declined to exit the home when deputies arrived to serve an eviction notice about 9 a.m. Talks later failed with SWAT negotiators, officials said.

Bourbonnais said a writ of possession was served on the couple June 24, and the eviction was scheduled for Wednesday. Protocol allows deputies to call in SWAT teams to remove uncooperative occupants.

Community members moved by the couple's plight reached out to help Thursday.

Lawrenceville resident Rebekah Easterly, a stranger to the couple, offered storage space on her property where the Grabers might keep their belongings until their housing issues are sorted out.

"We just see a cause and try to help," Easterly said in a phone call to the Daily Post. "It goes to show you that, unless you've walked in other people's shoes, you don't know what they're going through."

The Sheriff's Department continues to serve about 30 evictions in Gwinnett per day, despite indications the economy is improving. Instances of occupants resisting evictions are rare, officials said.