Advertisement

Son Files Lawsuit After Mom Drowns While Handcuffed in Sheriff Deputy's Car that Crashed into River

The lawsuit, filed by Nathan Smith on behalf of his late mother Tabitha, requests a jury trial and $10 million in damages

<p>Companion Funeral Service; Tennessee Police Benevolent Association/Facebook</p> Tabitha Smith; Robert John "R.J." Leonard, Jr.

Companion Funeral Service; Tennessee Police Benevolent Association/Facebook

Tabitha Smith; Robert John "R.J." Leonard, Jr.

The family of Tabitha Smith, the woman who died in a police car in the Tennessee River along with the rookie deputy who arrested her, is suing both the deceased deputy and the county government.

The bodies of Smith, 35, and the deputy, Robert John "R.J." Leonard, Jr. of the Meigs County Sheriff's Office, also 35, were found on Feb. 15. The previous day, the deputy drove his cruiser into the river while transporting Tabitha, whom he had arrested, to county jail, NBC affiliate WRCB and FOX affiliate WTVC reported at the time.

Now, Tabitha’s son, Nathan Smith, is suing Leonard and the Meigs County Government on behalf of his mom, according to CBS affiliate WVLT-TV.

The lawsuit, which Nathan filed on Monday, alleges that Leonard, who had been with the sheriff’s office for about two months before his death, “was not properly trained by the County to know his assigned area of patrol and know the nature of the incident location.”

It also alleges that the rookie deputy “was not properly trained or supervised by the County to refrain from the use of his cell phone while transporting an arrestee in a patrol vehicle” and was unable “to ensure the safety of the Deceased while in his custody.”

While transporting Tabitha — whom he had in custody after being called to the scene of a disturbance the evening of Feb. 14 — Leonard accidentally took a wrong turn and drove his police cruiser into the Tennessee River, per WVLT-TV.

Before the cruiser entered the river, the deputy sent a text message to his wife about the arrest. He also sent “an incomplete radio transmission” during which he may have said the word “water,” according to a news release from the Tennessee Police Benevolent Association.

According to WVLT-TV, Tabitha was handcuffed and unable to free herself from the patrol car. Both of their bodies were found in the river the following day, Tabitha’s in the backseat of the cruiser and Leonard’s outside of the vehicle.

“As a direct and proximate result of the acts and omissions of Leonard and the County, the Deceased suffered a horrific death,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit claims deprivation of liberty interest and bodily integrity, wrongful death, battery and assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, gross negligence and loss of consortium.

It also requests a jury trial and “nominal, punitive, compensatory, and presumed damages,” including $10 million.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases. 

In a press conference after the bodies of Tabitha and Leonard were found, Meigs County Sheriff's Office Chief Brian Malone said, “It's a hard time here for us today,” per NBC affiliate WBIR-TV.

"Something we don't ever deal with here in Meigs County. We're a small, rural county, we're not used to it,” Malon added.

Tabitha’s friend Sheena Mchome told WVLT-TV that the late mom was “a happy person” who was “outgoing” and “loved life.” Another friend, Emilie Neusel, said she “had a heart of gold, and despite any struggles and troubles she had, she was a great person.”

She is survived by her parents, her four children and her three siblings, according to her obituary. "Tabitha loved music, cooking, and loved people and spending time with them, especially her children," the obituary says.

According to his obituary, Leonard “did construction for most of his life, until recently moving to Tennessee to pursue his dream of becoming a police officer.” He loved sports and the outdoors, “but most of all he loved spending time with his family,” his wife Christina and their five children.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.