Judge dismisses lawsuit against police, city

By Joe Beck

A federal judge in Martinsburg, West Virginia, has dismissed a lawsuit filed by relatives of a former Stephens City resident who was shot to death during a confrontation with Martinsburg police in 2013.

The victim, Wayne A Jones, 50, died after five officers fired a total of 22 shots, all of which hit Jones.

U.S. District Judge Gina M. Groh cited what she described as “undisputed evidence” that Jones stabbed one of the officers with a knife as the officer struggled to arrest him. She rejected accusations by Jones’ family that the officers’ shooting of Jones constituted an excessive use of force.

The lawsuit listed Pfc. Erik Herb; Pfc. Daniel North, patrolman William Staubs; patrolman Paul Lehman and Pfc. Eric Neely, along with the city of Martinsburg, as defendants.

Groh stated that one of the officers reported in a deposition that Jones’ knife was 4 or 5 inches long. Another officer, Staubs, was stabbed in the side and hand as he tried to subdue Jones with a chokehold, Groh said.

Staubs and the other officers who had arrived at the scene “backed up from Jones a few steps and drew their guns,” before ordering him to drop the knife, Groh said. When Jones, refused they fired at him.

“Objectively viewing these facts, Officer Staubs was faced with a highly dangerous situation (involving) an individual armed with a knife who was resisting arrest, disobeying the officers’ orders and refusing to drop the knife, despite the officers’ commands to do so mere feet away from himself and other officers,” Groh wrote. “Making the threat of physical harm more significant, Jones showed he was willing to use the knife to harm the officers because he had stabbed officer Staubs.

“Faced with this dangerous situation, officer Staub reasonably viewed Jones as posing an immediate, serious threat to Staubs’ and the other officers’ safety when he decided to fire. His split-second decision to use deadly force therefore was objectively justified and reasonable.”

Groh also rejected arguments by Jones’ family that the number shots fired were excessive.

“The shooting took mere seconds, and the officers fired simultaneously,” Groh said. “There is also no indication that, in those few seconds, any officer saw Jones drop the knife such that he would no longer pose a threat.”

Groh added that putting the shooting in context, “it was not unreasonable for five officers to fire a total of 22 shots. Accordingly, the officers did not use excessive force.”

The incident began when Lehman stopped Jones for walking in the street, a violation of city ordinance prohibiting a pedestrian from using the street when a sidewalk is available.

Lehman asked Jones, a homeless man suffering from schizophrenia, why he was walking in the street and asked Jones to produce some identification. After Lehman asked Jones to place his hands on the police vehicle several times, the situation escalated into the struggle that led to the shooting.

Sherman Lambert, the attorney who represented the Jones family in the lawsuit, issued a written statement explaining that the family pursued the lawsuit “based largely on the principle that the public needs to knows the truth about this matter.”

Unlike most mentally ill and homeless victims, we had the financial wherewithal to defend Wayne A. Jones . . . in court, and we were able to speak through the media,” Lambert said. “But the vulnerable and impoverished victims of the city of Martinsburg have neither the money nor the voice to fight back. We intend to continue to protect this sacred class and others from injustice.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com