John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Sep. 3, 2012, 7:45pm

GALVESTON - The defendants in a recent lawsuit alleging unlawful detention insist the arrest was made with probable cause.

The city of Texas City, Texas City Mayor Matt T. Doyle, Texas City Chief of Police Robert Burby and officers John Thorn, Arthur Lee, Manuel Johnson and L.W. Fowler filed an original answer before the Galveston County 56th District Court on Aug. 30 to a suit filed by George Sanford III and Janice Hendley.

Sanford and Hendley, who reside in La Marque, claim their constitutional rights were violated when they were taken into custody "for no apparent reason" on July 12, 2010.

According to the plaintiffs, Officer Thorn approached them in front of their residence just as they were about to leave and allegedly ordered Sanford out of their vehicle with a firearm in his hand.

The suit further states Thorn took Sanford by the neck and forced him face down to the ground and demanded Hendley exit the car. Thorn and officers Lee and Johnson then proceeded to search the vehicle without a warrant, the suit alleges.

The plaintiffs were transported to the Texas City Jail where authorities allegedly told them they were accused of "tax evasion" and running "a small drug cartel".

Sanford says he was taken to the Galveston County Jail, and upon posting bond, learned that his vehicle was impounded and the defendants took pictures of his property.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs had $4,000 on their person at the time of the incident, however, the funds were seized and only half of the money was returned to them.

The officers and Mayor Doyle contend they "have federal qualified immunity and Texas common law official immunity" from the litigation.

"At the time in question, the city official defendants were acting in their official capacity as city officials, in good faith, and performing a discretionary function," the three-page document states.

The defendants also claim Sanford and Hendley failed to provide timely notice.

Attorney Ramon G. Viada with Viada & Strayer in The Woodlands is representing the defendants.

Case No. 12-cv-1492

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