ATLANTA — This month marks five years since Fulton County police Cpl. Paul Phillips parked his cruiser on a Sugar Hill road to assist a distressed motorist, only to be shot — on purpose — by another police officer.
Phillips was struck once near his left elbow, resulting in injuries that ended his career and complicated household tasks, such as opening jars of food. He received workers’ compensation benefits and insurance payouts for undisclosed amounts, according to court documents. His attorneys have downplayed that compensation as paltry, given Phillips’ sacrifice.
Phillips’ quest for further compensation against the off-duty Duluth Police Department officer who attacked him Feb. 1, 2008 — and the department and city that employed that officer — continues.
Phillips and his wife, Stephanie, sued the city of Duluth, its police department and former Officer Jay Dailey, a depressed alcoholic, the following year. Dailey was fired a few days after his arrest on charges he shot Phillips after flagging down and attacking a female motorist and pointing a gun at two bystanders.
The suit reached Gwinnett State Court in January last year. Phillips and his wife lost on every claim. A judge granted the defendants summary judgment and prevented the case from reaching a jury.
Judge John Doran Jr. ruled that Dailey’s actions did not arise from his employment with Duluth police, though he shot Phillips with his service weapon. Duluth police officials and the city were also shielded, the judge found, by a law called the “fireman’s rule,” which prohibits public safety officials from suing based on damages incurred on the job.
When he was shot, Phillips was heading home from a part-time security job at an Alpharetta school. He was in uniform, driving a marked patrol car.
In September, Phillips’ attorneys argued the case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, in hopes the case could be remanded to a Gwinnett jury. Attorney Holly Hance said a ruling from the higher court is expected soon.
“We’re feeling (Phillips’) right to a jury has been taken away,” Hance said. “The (appellate court) panel sounded like they were seeing it our way.”
Meanwhile, the attorney representing the city of Duluth and police Chief Randy Belcher and Maj. Don Woodruff said any claim for damages lacks merit.
“The case is a sympathetic one because Paul Phillips is a good man and was performing his duties as a police officer when he was shot by (Dailey),” attorney Harvey Gray said. “Legal cases are not decided based on sympathy.”
A key point of the plaintiffs’ argument, Hance said, hinges on evidence that Dailey was never mentally stable enough to serve on a police force and should not have been hired by Duluth.
Days prior to Dailey’s hiring in September 2003, his Sugar Hill neighbors called 911 to report he had threatened them with firearms. Dailey was confronted by Gwinnett police and involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, Phillips’ appeal states.
In a response, Gray calls the 2003 incident “a red herring” and one that Duluth police officials did not know — and should not have known — about.
“Dailey did not shoot anyone (in 2003),” Gray writes. “He threatened to kill himself and was taken to the hospital and thereafter released.”
Phillips’ attorneys have not specified how much they hope to eventually collect in damages.
Phillips, 42, and his wife could not be reached this week for comment. Over the years, Phillips “has had a little luck finding odd jobs here and there,” said Hance, but to her knowledge his injuries have precluded him from finding steady employment.
Two years ago, the Phillips’ Sugar Hill home was scheduled to be sold at auction, but the foreclosure process was averted after friends established a fund for public donations.
The Phillips, parents of two young children, had gotten by on Paul’s $2,100 pension but fell behind on the mortgage. At the time, Stephanie was unemployed, after quitting her job as a health district program manager due to the demands of the trial.
Since the shooting, Phillips had kept busy with rehabilitation, playing “Mr. Mom” in his neighborhood and giving lectures on his experience at a police academy, he told the Daily Post in 2011.
Phillips had served with Fulton County police for 12 years when he was shot.
Hance said it’s typical in heavily populated counties like Gwinnett for several years to pass between a complex civil suit being filed and settled.