The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond has ruled there is “disputed material fact’ as to whether five Martinsburg, West Virginia police officers used excessive force when in 2013 they shot and killed a 50-year-old man once from Stephens City.
In a 14-page opinion filed Monday, a three-judge panel of the appellate court reversed Chief U.S. District Judge Gina Groh’s decision to grant summary judgement in favor of the city and remanded a $200 million lawsuit filed by Jones’ estate back to district court in Martinsburg for further proceedings.
“We conclude that genuine issues of disputed material fact remain as to whether police officers used excessive force at the time they shot and killed Wayne A. Jones,” the judges wrote.
They then ordered the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
The decision comes more than four years after a Berkeley County grand jury declined to indict the officers involved in the shooting.
The decision means the lawsuit will go to trial, said Paul Taylor, a Martinsburg attorney representing the Jones family. Taylor said the Jones family still lives in Stephen City.
“All we asked for five years was a trial. Finally, we get our day in court,” Taylor said.
It will take a while before a trial happens, he said.
“It’s been tough for the family. For those not familiar with the court system, it’s hard to understand why its taken so long to resolve,” Taylor said.
Court records give the following description of the events leading up to the fatal shooting.
Around 11:30 p.m. on March 13, 2013, Martinsburg police officer Paul Lehman spotted Jones walking in the road, instead of a sidewalk, near downtown Martinsburg, West Virginia. Lehman stopped Jones and asked him why he was walking in the street and asked for his identification. Jones told the officer he had no identification. The officer asked Jones if he had weapons, and if he could search him. Jones is to have said he had “something.” Lehman called for backup and ordered Jones to put his hands on the police car. Jones did not follow the order and instead tried to walk away.
Lehman used his taser on Jones.
Officer Daniel North just arriving at that time used his taser on Jones as well.
Jones broke away and ran from officers who caught up to him in an “entranceway to a bookstore, up a couple steps”
Officer William Staub arrived at that time and joined in the chase.
Officers struggled with Jones until Staub placed Jones in a choke hold.
A loud choking or gurgling sound from Jones can be heard on an audio recording.
At this time officers Eric Neely and Erik Herb arrived at the scene.
Staub still had Jones in a choke hold when, he said, he felt “like a scratch on my hand.” A second or two later, as another officer tased Jones, Staub felt “a sharp poke in my side”
Staub partially released Jones and raised up.
He said he saw a fixed blade knife in Jones’ hand and shouted, “He’s got a knife. He’s got a knife.”
“The officers drew back, and Jones remained laying “on the ground with his right side on the ground” and his “right elbow… on the ground,” court documents state.
All five officers drew their guns, formed a semi-circle “around the recumbent Jones” and ordered Jones to drop his weapon.
Seconds later, officers fired a total of 22 rounds at Jones, killing him where he lay on the sidewalk.
Lehman reported that Jones “did not make any overt acts with the knife toward the officers.”
Staub similarly reported that Jones “still had the (expletive) knife in his hand and he wasn’t (expletive) doing nothing”
“Even though Jones did not release the knife when instructed to do so, a reasonable jury could consider the totality of the facts and still find that the officers exercised excessive force. Most critically, it is not clear that Jones continued to pose an immediate threat of physical harm to the officers at the time they shot and killed him,” the Court of Appeals wrote in its March 5 ruling.
A court case continues
Monday’s ruling sends the case back to the federal court in West Virginia where the Jones family sued the City of Marinsburg and officers in a $200 million wrongful death lawsuit filed in June 2013.
The case was dismissed on Oct. 15, 2014 by Judge Groh. The family appealed the decision.