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Family suing Gwinnett PD

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The family of a suicidal Duluth woman and her elderly mother shot dead by a Gwinnett police officer two years ago is suing the police department and 911 call center.

Filed last week, two separate suits claim Gwinnett police Officer Lyndsey Perry, a 10-year-veteran of the force, was negligent in the fatal shootings of Penny Schwartz, 51, and her mother, Barbara Baker, 75.

Baker called police to her Duluth home in July 2009 to report her mentally unstable daughter was in a rage, threatening suicide and could be armed.

A 911 operator repeatedly told Perry the suicidal woman was unarmed, the suit claims. But she was informed by Baker in the home of the weapon, and ignored standard operating procedures by not waiting for back-up or requesting SWAT negotiators, the suit claims.

Police said Schwartz walked downstairs and pointed a gun at the officer, prompting gunfire that struck both women. From the outset, family members decried Perry's actions as an excessive use of force.

A two-pronged internal investigation, capped six months after the shootings, found Perry acted within policy and procedure.

The suit also names supervisors in the county's 911 communications center and Police Chief Charles Walters.

Gwinnett County spokesman Joe Sorenson said Thursday he couldn't comment on pending litigation. Gwinnett police officials also declined comment on the suit's claims.

A joint suit by Baker's two children, Jody Ahlfinger and Michael Schwartz, was filed in Gwinnett State Court on July 19. Penny Schwartz's son, Derrick Schwartz, filed a similar suit with different attorneys the following day.

Neither suit specifies the amount of damages plaintiffs are seeking.

"We'll let the jurors decide that based on the facts of the case," said Atlanta attorney Terry Jackson, who represents Baker's children. "I don't think the average citizen is going to appreciate what went on here."

According to autopsy results, Schwartz was shot four times -- once in each forearm and twice on the left side of her abdomen. She was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center and died overnight.

Baker was shot once in the center of her chest, officials said.

Jackson said Perry resigned from the police department earlier this year.

She was the subject of a second investigation last year after being pulled over in her Jeep in Hall County and arrested on DUI charges. Those charges were later reduced to misdemeanor reckless driving when Perry pleaded no contest. She was ordered to serve 12 months probation and 40 hours community service.

Those named in the suit have 30 days to respond. Jackson said he expects to start collecting depositions immediately after receiving that response.

His clients, he said, have struggled to recuperate.

"I don't think you ever get over something like this," Jackson said. "In these circumstances, you don't ever get over it."