A Georgia Tech student has filed a civil battery complaint against Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue, alleging that he “ripped” a cellphone out of the student’s hand while he was asking a question about issues of voting rights in the state this month.
Perdue’s office has disputed the allegation.
Nathan Alan Knauf, a junior at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, said he was “polite and respectful” when he began to ask the senator about allegations of voter suppression in the state, according to a press release from Georgia law firm Dreyer Sterling, which is representing Knauf in the case.
“Instead of answering in a civil and respectful way, Sen. Perdue ripped the phone out of my hands,” Knauf said in the statement.
Knauf’s attorneys — Democratic Georgia state Rep. David Dreyer and former federal prosecutor Michael Sterling — have accused Perdue of battery.
“The law is as clear in this case as any I’ve seen,” Dreyer said in the release. “The cell phone is an extension of the hand and Sen. Perdue committed battery when he touched the student’s hand and pulled the cell phone away from the student.”
Perdue’s spokeswoman called the complaint “complete nonsense,” suggesting in a statement that it’s politically motivated.
“All you have to do is look at the political hacks who are trying to spin something out of nothing,” the statement read.
In a video uploaded to Twitter by Georgia Tech’s Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter, a student — later identified as Knauf — approaches Perdue, who was on the school’s campus on Oct. 13 to campaign for Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp in a hotly contested race for governor next month. Kemp is facing off against Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams.
Knauf can be heard asking, “How can you endorse a candidate that’s going to —”
Perdue interrupts, saying, “No, I’m not doing that.” Then he apparently grabs the phone and asks repeatedly, “You wanted a picture?”
The student can be heard saying, “Give me my phone back, Senator.”
Perdue apparently returns the phone and walks away.
“U.S. Sen. David Perdue just snatched my phone because he won’t answer a question from one of his constituents,” Knauf says. He then brings up allegations that Kemp’s office has suppressed thousands of voters — largely black voters — as reported by The Associated Press this month.
Perdue’s team has maintained that he was asked for a photo and attempted to take a selfie during the exchange with Knauf.
“It’s now abundantly clear that this is being politically orchestrated by Georgia Democrats,” Perdue’s spokeswoman said in a statement. “The senator was simply asked to take a picture and went to take a selfie as he often does with hundreds of people.”
She added that he was not ignoring questions and responded to other 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,” she said.
Knauf’s attorneys have dismissed Perdue’s response, calling his selfie explanation “fictitious.”
A Dreyer Sterling spokesperson said that before Knauf started recording the video that was seen on Twitter, he asked Perdue if he could take a photo of the senator and that Perdue offered to take Knauf’s phone to snap the picture but that Knauf declined.
“Senator Perdue could not have thought that Mr. Knauf had somehow changed his mind and now wanted a selfie taken,” the suit claims.
“This is a first-year law school definition of battery,” Sterling said in the statement. “Perdue starts by saying ‘No, I’m not doing that,’ and then snatches the phone.”
“The two issues at stake here are democracy and the rule of law: For democracy, can an individual, an everyday person, go up to their elected representative and ask a question in a public forum?” Dreyer said in the statement. “And, two, does the rule of law apply — whether it’s a college student or a multimillionaire U.S. senator?”
The lawsuit claims Perdue “forcefully” took Knauf’s phone “without his permission” and seeks a jury trial, damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.
“More than anything, I would like an apology and an answer to my question,” Knauf said in the statement.