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Court docs: Gatto in pre-trial diversion program at time of death, Court directed “no alcohol” or associated establishments

The paperwork included motions for evidence to be suppressed, expert witnesses be kept from testifying, and claims that Michael Gatto was under direction of a court in Athens at the time of his death to avoid alcohol and establishments with alcohol for the duration of his pre-trial diversion.

The attorney representing the City of Statesboro and City Clerk Sue Starling individually filed over 300 pages of documents in the Michael Gatto case on Friday.


The paperwork included motions for evidence to be suppressed, expert witnesses be kept from testifying, and claims that Michael Gatto was under direction of a court in Athens to avoid alcohol and establishments with alcohol for the duration of his pre-trial diversion.

Documents reflect the attorney for the City of Statesboro making a point to the Court that the Gatto Family has amended their Complaint three times to “shift their theories of liability.”

The City of Statesboro is being sued by the Gatto family and an individual civil suit has been lodged against City Clerk Sue Starling individually, though the city is representing her because the acts are related to her official duties. Both civil suits stem from the city’s decision to award Rude Rudy’s a business license, occupational license, and alcohol license. Both suits also claim a failure enforce ordinances on the city’s part.

“Plaintiffs’ ultimate allegation was that the Decedent’s death at the hands of Grant Spencer, a former bouncer of Rude Rudy’s, was the result of the City’s and/or Ms. Starling’s alleged failure to take action against Rude Rudy’s alcohol license and/or to eliminate crime-related dangers to patrons such as the Decedent.” The Gatto family claims that the city knew there was known criminal activity at the location of the bars as well.

The documents go on about the city’s liability:

“Rude Rudy’s was owned and operated by Jonathan Starkey, and University Plaza – which

Photo: Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office

maintained control over the parking lot in which the Decedent was thrown and left to die – was owned and operated by Holmes Ramsey (“Mr. Ramsey”). But Spencer is a jobless twenty-two-year-old who lives in prison; Rude Rudy’s did not maintain liability insurance; and University Plaza went into bankruptcy. Therefore, Plaintiffs were left to try and manufacture baseless claims against the City and Ms. Starling (a public servant), who they apparently believe are better candidates for potentially satisfying a money judgment and whom they allege were the proximate cause of the death of Michael Gatto.”

The City filed a Motion in Limine Friday which is a request that certain evidence be excluded from the case. The City requested a number of items be excluded. The City claimed:
  1. The documents detailing the alleged criminal activities – fights or disorderly conduct – that occurred in the area but at other establishments other than Rude Rudy’s should be excluded. The City said incidents not on premises of Rude Rudy’s are unfairly prejudicial because the tenants of the property had no control over areas they didn’t lease, including the parking lot, which the City says was all privately owned. The originals at the time of the Gatto death said establishments could be punished for allowing incidents and fights on premises,” but the City is claiming that the other establishments and the parking lots were not “on” Rude Rudy’s premises and therefore would not lead to a license revocation.
  2. Most Otherwise Potentially Relevant Police Incident Reports, Uniform Traffic Citations, EMS Reports, and Dispatch Summary Reports Contain Hearsay And Must Be Appropriately Redacted if Admitted, or Excluded Altogether. The city claims that reports made by police officers are valid, but other third parties should be inadmissible, including statements provided to officers by others which were not personally observed by the officers themselves.
  3. Mayor Moore’s Self-Prepared Spreadsheet Reflecting EMS Incident Reports and Responses Between 2011 and 2014 is Inadmissible
  4. Any and All Dispatch Summary Reports Are Inadmissible because they’re an exchange between parties.
  5. Testimony Regarding Alleged Racial Profiling or Decision-Making at Rude Rudy’s or the City in General is Irrelevant and Unfairly Prejudicial.
  6. Spencer’s Testimony About Being “On Duty” Is Inadmissible Hearsay
  7. Speculation or Conjectural Testimony About What Other Councilmen Desired, Intended, or Were Thinking Should Be Precluded.
  8. The fact that the City of Statesboro has made remedial actions, like altering the alcohol ordinance, ultimately suspending the license of Rude Rudy’s after the Gatto death, and hiring a full-time alcohol compliance officer, should be excluded.
  9. The details of the city’s liability insurance should be inadmissible
  10. Evidence of the Grief, Pain, and Suffering of the Decedent’s Family is Irrelevant and Unfairly Prejudicial.
  11. The autopsy photos of Michael Gatto. The City requested the Court exclude “all of these images on the basis that they are both irrelevant to the actual claims and would be extremely unfairly prejudicial to the jury, and would cause sadness and outrage to the point that the ability to form an unbiased verdict.”
  12. The Terminations of Judy McCorkle and Stan York.
  13. Testimony related to Legends, Woodin Nickel, Primetime, and Platinum.
  14. The Plaintiffs should also not be permitted to state, imply, or otherwise suggest to the jury that any of the City’s attorneys were negligent
  15. The Post-Gatto Terminations of Brunson and Forney.
  16. Alvin Leaphart’s Legal Opinions and Conclusions Set forth in his Memoranda because “Mr. Leaphart is not on trial in a malpractice action by the Plaintiffs.”
  17. Rumors and speculation as to the ownership of various establishments or what Will Britt may have been doing in “counting money” is inadmissible hearsay
Defendants Amended First Motion in Limine
The City also filed paperwork claiming that the expert witness set to be brought by the Gatto’s was irrelevant, and unfairly prejudicial.

Whether some or all of the evidence will be excluded will be decided by a judge.

The City also made claims that Michael Gatto was in violation of a pre-trial diversion program he entered into three weeks before his death. Citing other court documents, Statesboro says that on July 4, 2014, Gatto was arrested in Athens and charged with theft of services and underage possession or consumption of alcohol. On August 5, 2014, he entered into a Pretrial Intervention Agreement whereby he agreed to, among other things: (a) “not violate any criminal laws”; (b) “not drink or consume any alcoholic beverage or have any alcoholic beverages in your possession”; and (c) “not visit, enter, or contact any bar, liquor store, night club or other location whose primary purpose is the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages.”

The City cited two cases in Georgia in which the Courts found that governmental entities were liable for activity occurring on private property.
  • “Huddle House has cited no cases holding a city liable for nuisance for injuries resulting from the criminal acts of third parties committed on or near the premises of a private business.” City of Toccoa v. Pittman, 286 Ga. App. 213, 217 648 S.E.2d 733, 738 (Ga. App. 2007)
  • “There is no case law indicating that a municipality may be held liable for creating or maintaining a nuisance on private property held by another.” City of Albany v. Stanford et al., 815 S.E.2d 322, 330, n.3 (Ga. App. 2018) (Gobeil, J., concurring fully and specially.)
Previously, back on January 26, 2017, the Court granted a motion in favor of city and dismissed the punitive damages claim against the City and dismissed the Count III nuisance claim, which the Court noted alleged “that the ordinance changes created a dangerous environment at establishments in the municipality by encouraging the sale of alcohol at underage college students by licenses inclined to place financial profit above the safety of its patrons and thus constituted a nuisance that was injurious to the invitees to the premises and the general public.”
The remaining documents are linked below. They are large files and may take a moment to load. 

Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com.

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