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GOP Sen. David Perdue Sued for Battery After Student Cell Phone Incident

U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-Georgia) was sued for battery on Monday morning after allegedly ripping a student’s cell phone out of his hand on the Georgia Tech campus earlier this month.

Sen. Perdue’s office says the lawsuit is “outrageous and completely frivolous.”

On October 13, Perdue was meeting with constituents while campaigning for Georgia’s Republican secretary of state and gubernatorial nominee Brian Kemp. During this meet-and-greet, computer-science junior Nate Knauf asked Perdue to address widely-reported allegations that Kemp’s office has intentionally moved to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of–predominantly black–Peach State voters.

As Law&Crime reported on the day of the incident, Perdue did not appear to appreciate the question and appeared to quickly grab Knauf’s phone out of his hand–allegedly holding it behind his back for a few seconds before returning it. Knauf’s cell phone was recording the encounter all the while.

In a nine-page filing obtained by Law&Crime, Knauf, by way of his attorneys, alleges:

Suddenly and without warning, Senator Perdue committed unlawful battery when he seized Mr. Knauf’s phone, touching Mr. Knauf in the process of seizing the phone, while angrily declaring: “No, I’m not doing that—I’m not doing that.”

Senator Perdue then stopped the recording on Mr. Knauf’s phone without Mr. Knauf’s permission. After Mr. Knauf asked Senator Perdue several times to return his stolen phone, Senator Perdue returned his phone and left the scene.

Perdue is being sued under Georgia’s battery statute. The filing notes, while referencing precedent from the Georgia Court of Appeals, “Georgia law is clear: ‘[c]ontact proceeding from rudeness is as offensive and harmful as that which proceeds from anger or lust, and in law constitutes an assault and battery.'”

The filing continues:

Senator Perdue had previously asked for Mr. Knauf’s phone, and Mr. Knauf refused to consent to Senator Perdue taking his phone. When Plaintiff Knauf began asking about voter-suppression allegations against Kemp, Senator Perdue did not want to answer the question and did not want the exchange recorded, despite Senator Perdue being in a public place and simply being asked about a public-policy matter by a constituent. Instead of answering his constituent’s question, civilly interacting with Mr. Knauf, or simply leaving, Senator Perdue forcefully took Mr. Knauf’s phone without his permission in a rude and offensive manner, which constitutes unlawful battery under Georgia law.

In a statement provided to Law&Crime, Sen. Perdue’s spokesperson also accused the Georgia Democratic Party of orchestrating the interaction:

It’s now abundantly clear that this is being politically orchestrated by Georgia Democrats. The Senator was simply asked to take a picture and went to take a selfie as he often does with hundreds of people. The Senator was also not ignoring their questions, in fact, he had just finished answering several students’ questions about climate change. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this is another attempt by liberal activists to distort the facts and distract the people of Georgia just weeks before an election.

Video of the incident shows the initial grab. In this now-viral video, the senator appears to make the contact with Knauf as alleged in the filing. As the phone changes hands, Knauf says:

You stole my property. You stole my property. Give me my phone back, senator.

To which Perdue replies, “Alright, you wanted a picture? You wanted a picture? I’m gonna give it to you. You wanted a picture?” Lasting roughly 10-12 seconds, the incident–and video–ends with the phone being returned.

As the video concludes, Knauf announces the seemingly bizarre turn of events to those within earshot and then references Kemp’s alleged voter disenfranchisement scheme.

“That’s U.S. Senator David Perdue,” he says. “David Perdue just snatched my phone because he won’t answer a question from one of his constituents. He’s trying to leave. He’s trying to leave because he won’t answer why he’s endorsing a candidate who’s trying to purge people from voting on the basis of their race.”

Knauf is a member of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapter at Georgia Tech. YDSA was the first group to post video of the confrontation. In a statement released at the time, the group noted:

It’s abhorrent that when our members ask their senators about the purging of voters within their state, they respond by stealing their phones, dismissing dissent, and ultimately prove that curbing of democracy is how they make capital stay in power. Perdue walked into Georgia Tech’s backyard, and students aren’t allowed to ask him a simple question? It would be one thing to say ‘no comment’ or inform us he’s not taking questions. Perdue would have been within his legal rights to simply walk away or decline the question. But instead, he forcibly, suddenly, and violently took their phone without justification or provocation.

Atlanta-based law firm Dreyer Sterling, LLC filed the civil complaint for battery against Perdue over the phone-snatching incident on Monday morning in Georgia’s Fulton County State Court.

Knauf is seeking declaratory relief in the form of an admonishment from the court against Perdue as well as $10 in damages and attorney’s fees.

[image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

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