Former Ft. Bragg soldier jailed after calling suicide helpline now suing city of Fayetteville, police officers for damages

Cumberland County News

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) — What started as a call to a suicide helpline, ended with a former Fort Bragg soldier in jail for years, facing attempted murder charges of police officers.

“I reached out for help and instead of receiving help, I was placed in jail for three years,” Gerard Atkinson said.

He was released from jail after the felony charges were dropped last year.

Now, he’s suing the City of Fayetteville, his former attorney for not properly defending him, and several police officers.

He’s seeking about $7.6 million in damages, which he says would be about $300 for every hour he spent in jail.

The incident started in January 2017, when Atkinson says he called a suicide helpline because he had been drinking, had a weapon, and was having suicidal thoughts.

After talking with someone on the helpline, he says his gun accidentally discharged when he went to put it down.

He says it fired one shot out of his closed window, and hit a tree.

He says he didn’t know that Fayetteville police officers had been dispatched to his home after someone with the suicide line called 911.

The officers were outside of his home at the time the shot fired, but Atkinson says he did not know this.

He was charged with three counts of attempted first degree murder of police officers.

He spent three years in jail.

The lawsuit says he didn’t see his first attorney for 10 months, so he’s also suing the attorney for not properly handling his case.

“If I didn’t have my faith, I would have lost it in there,” Atkinson said. “I’d have lost my mind.”

After a new attorney was put on his case last year, Atkinson says he passed a lie detector test and the charges were dropped in about a month.

He was released in December 2019.

“I couldn’t believe that hey I’m about to be out of jail.”

Atkinson thinks if there was an independent review board over the police department, that he wouldn’t have had to sit in jail for three years.

“If there was transparency at the onset, I wouldn’t have sat there for such a long period of time,” Atkinson said. “I think there needs to be transparency in what goes on in the city between the police officers, even the city and its constituents.”

The Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Task Force is meeting with the city Monday to talk about their plan for a citizens review board, something that they would like used on cases like this.

“We must stop this system of wrongful imprisonment and wrongful convictions and wrongful incarceration,” said Fayetteville PACT cofounder Kathy Greggs.

The group wants nine volunteers to be appointed to a citizens review board.

“We’re happy and we’re excited and we’re just hoping that they hear us, understand us and sit back and say you know what we have to make this change for the city,” Greggs said.

They’re also asking for a Civilian Police Oversight Authority, which would be three or four city-paid positions that would investigate alleged police misconduct.

“Fayetteville needs to go ahead and step up and say let’s make this happen and let’s be different,” Greggs said. “Let’s be the one to show everyone else what looks right.”

The city says they can’t comment on an ongoing legal matter but have filed motions to have the lawsuit dismissed.

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