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Restaurant owner gets $1.7M over claim of city harassment

April 18, 2021 GMT

STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. (AP) — A suburban Atlanta barbecue restaurant owner will get $1.7 million to settle a federal lawsuit claiming he was harassed by government officials and employees.

The city of Stockbridge’s insurer will pay the money to Arick Whitson, owner of Georgia Championship Barbeque Co. Whitson’s lawyers will get $534,000 from the total amount, according to terms obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The city is not admitting wrongdoing as part of the process and said it is settling to avoid “a protracted legal process.”

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A judge approved the settlement Tuesday.

The 2017 lawsuit accused Stockbridge City Councilman Elton Alexander of repeatedly retaliating against Whitson’s restaurant when Whitson declined to give Alexander a free meal.

The suit said the dispute began in May 2016 when Alexander visited the restaurant and asked Whitson if he wanted to do “business with the city.” Whitson replied that he did and Alexander ordered $60 worth of food.

When Alexander was asked to pay, the councilmember said, “I thought you wanted to do business with the city?” Alexander then left without paying.

Whitson said code enforcement officials began visiting frequently and that he had trouble getting a liquor license or a sign permit.

The owner also said Alexander falsely accused him of being a sex offender Whitson filed an ethics complaint against Alexander in January 2017, which he said only intensified Alexander’s attacks.

Alexander denied the claims and wrote in an email to the newspaper that he did not agree with the city’s insurer’s decision to settle.

“This is a business decision by the insurance company to settle this lawsuit in its entirety and to release the City of Stockbridge and Elton Alexander from all claims,” he wrote. “Mr. Alexander does not support the settlement and does not have the authority to override the insurance company’s decision to settle this lawsuit.