Estate of Wayne A. Jones v. City of Martinsburg, No. 18-2142 (4th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The Estate of Wayne Jones filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against police officers and the City after officers fired 22 bullets at Jones, a black man experiencing homelessness, and killed him. In this case, Jones, although armed with a knife, had been secured by the officers immediately before he was released and shot. Jones was also incapacitated at the time he was shot. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants.
Although the Fourth Circuit agreed that the City is insulated from Monell liability premised on one incident of excessive force, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment to the officers on qualified immunity grounds. The court held that it was clearly established at the time that officers may not shoot a secured or incapacitated person and a reasonable jury could find that Jones was both secured and incapacitated in the final moments before his death.
The court recognized that police officers are often asked to make split-second decisions, but expected them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives. The court noted yet another death of a black man at the hands of the police, the recent killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The court stated that this has to stop. To award qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage in this case would signal absolute immunity for fear-based use of deadly force, which the court cannot accept.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on June 10, 2020.