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Wrongful Death - Excessive Force

Terry Sides successfully defended a Jefferson County city and its police chief in a wrongful death and civil rights case in federal court.

The plaintiff’s son encountered a driver’s license checkpoint being conducted by the city’s police officers. When one of the officers asked for identification, the son produced a questionable ID card that could not be confirmed through multiple law enforcement sources. The officer asked the son to get out of the car and performed a “pat down” search of him. The son was then detained (but not handcuffed) in the backseat of the officer’s patrol car while the officer continued to try to confirm his identity. A short while later, the son jumped out of the patrol car, assaulted the officer, and tried to take the officer’s gun from its holster. Unable to get the gun, the son fled into the nearby woods. The officer chased the son and caught him, at which time the son continued to fight the officer and again attempted to take away the officer’s gun. Fearing for his life, the officer fatally shot the son.

The plaintiff made many federal and state-law claims against the city and its chief police, including claims for wrongful death, unlawful search and seizure, excessive force, and a claim that the city and police chief had failed to properly train and supervise the subject officer in how to handle situations like this one. The city and police chief argued that all but the wrongful death claim abated with the death of the plaintiff’s son, and with respect to that claim, the city and police chief argued that the plaintiff had failed to show any facts which plausibly established that any action or omission attributable to them was the moving force which led to her son’s death. Given the absence of a showing of such facts, much less any facts showing either that the city had a custom or practice of its police officers conducting unlawful searches and seizures or using excessive or deadly force, or that the city or its police chief knew of a need to train or supervise in a particular area but made a deliberate choice not to do so, the plaintiff’s claims and lawsuit against the city and police chief failed and were dismissed.

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