The Metro Council approved a substantial settlement Tuesday over an allegation of police misconduct. It's one of the larger payouts in nearly a decade, mainly because the woman arrested fought every step of the way.
Early one August morning in 2011, Andrea Miller was driving home from working a night shift at a Wilson Sporting Goods warehouse. As she turned down her street in North Nashville, she noticed a police car driving the other direction. "And next thing I see, he puts on his lights and makes a U-turn," Miller recalls.
Miller, just a few hundred feet from her home, pulled into her driveway. That's when the Metro officer named Woodston Maddox got out of his patrol car, approached her vehicle and ordered Miller out.
"So I get out the car, he tells me turn around and he puts me in cuffs," Miller says. "So I ask, 'Why are you arresting me?' And he says, 'I am arresting you for running that stop sign.'"
Officer Maddox also claimed Miller was speeding and said he smelled marijuana in her car. No drugs were found.
Miller says Maddox never asked for her license and registration and that the entire incident, from the moment she pulled into her driveway until she was handcuffed, unfolded in less than two minutes.
Miller was charged with resisting arrest and reckless driving. And as her case made its slow crawl through the courts, she did something that defendants in these types of cases rarely do: She stood by her innocence claim, refusing to take a plea deal.
As Miller's lawyer, Kyle Mothershead, dug into the case, he found evidence that officer Maddox had made false statements. Most notably: The stop sign Miller allegedly ran was out of view of the officer. Another was the claim that Miller was so unruly that three officers were needed to take her into custody.
"But the records show," Mothershead said, "that one of the officers never came at all. And that the third officer came after she was in custody."
After two years, the criminal case was eventually dismissed. That's when Miller decided to file a federal civil rights lawsuit. And Metro Legal fought it tooth-and-nail. Citing a specific legal argument, the city claimed that, because Miller was indicted by a grand jury, she couldn't sue — no matter how the facts shook out. They even appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It declined.
Seven years later, with a trial date set for this month, Mothershead and Miller had a mediation conference with Metro Legal. Surprisingly, after years of litigation, the city offered to settle for $130,000, hitting Nashville's $50,000 cap for police misconduct cases and paying another $80,000 in legal fees.
In a council committe meeting on Monday, Metro's law director, Jon Cooper, said the decision is a prudent one for the city because there's a good chance Miller could come out on top in court.
"The plaintiff would make a very good witness, would be a very sympathetic witness, and so we think that certainly from a business standpoint this is the best approach for the city," Cooper said.
All these years later, the settlement does give Miller a sense of closure. But she still struggles with what happened that night. She decided to move out of Davidson County, wanting to start fresh with a new home and a different police department.
After five years with Meteo Police, Maddox retired from the department in 2015.
Miller says her experiences with police prior to the incident were always cordial. Never before had she sparred with law enforcement. But now, she worries.
"I just worry about potentially being victimized again," Miller said. "In the same way but maybe worse."