A federal appeals court Tuesday revived a lawsuit against police officers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, by the family of a black man killed in 2013 and used the opportunity to comment on police brutality, writing, “This has to stop.”
“Although we recognize that our police officers are often asked to make split-second decisions, we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives. Before the ink dried on this opinion, the FBI opened an investigation into yet another death of a black man at the hands of police, this time George Floyd in Minneapolis. This has to stop,” the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a unanimous opinion.
Wayne Jones, who was homeless and schizophrenic, died when five officers tased him, kicked him, put him in a chokehold and shot him 22 times. He was carrying a knife but was lying motionless at the time the police shot him, the court said.
“What we see is a scared man who is confused about what he did wrong, and an officer that does nothing to alleviate that man’s fears. That is the broader context in which five officers took Jones’s life,” Judge Henry Floyd wrote in the unanimous opinion.
Jones’ family alleged in court that the city hadn’t properly trained its police and that Jones’ constitutional rights were violated by the police officers’ violence. The appeals court decided Tuesday that the city wasn’t in the wrong for its training program.
But the three-judge panel of Judges Floyd, Stephanie Thacker and Roger Gregory sided with Jones’ family against the five police officers, saying trial-level federal Judge Gina Groh in Martinsburg improperly looked at the facts of the case in a way that was more favorable to the police than to Jones.
The National Law Journal first reported the decision on Tuesday.
The appeals court on Tuesday noted just how extensively the police officers had subdued Jones before they shot him.
“If Jones was secured, then police officers could not constitutionally release him, back away, and shoot him. To do so violated Jones’s constitutional right to be free from deadly force under clearly established law,” the appeals court wrote.
“By shooting an incapacitated, injured person who was not moving, and who was laying on his knife, the police officers crossed a ‘bright line’ and can be held liable,” the court added.