Jury awards family four dollars in wrongful death suit against cops

This is a rather creepy story out of Florida (where else) which deserves a bit more attention. Four years ago, Florida Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Newman shot and killed Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr. while responding with his partner to reports of a disturbance involving loud music. Since Hill was black and Newman is white, an investigation was immediately convened with the usual media focus on possible motivations involving racism. A grand jury was convened to examine the case and they opted not to indict Newman, placing nearly all the blame on Hill for the result of the encounter.

That led to a wrongful death suit being filed by Hill’s family in civil court. That case drew to a close this week with the jury deciding to award damages to Hill’s family, but the number was shocking to almost anyone from either side of the dispute. They awarded four members of the family one dollar each. (NBC News)

Four dollars.

When Monique Davis heard that was the amount a jury believed her fiancee’s mother and three children deserved for his death in a police shooting, she didn’t bother to listen to the rest of the verdict. She walked out of the courtroom, shaken.

“My heart just dropped,” Davis recalled. “It was like, are y’all serious?”

This case just stinks on ice and highlights a few problems with this system of civil suits which crop up so often. First of all, the fact that this jury awarded the family members one dollar each is not any sort of recompense for a wrongful death. It’s a blatant insult which sounds as if they were trying to punish the family for having the temerity to bring the suit in the first place. That’s not the job of the jury and it adds insult to injury for the family who still no doubt grieve for their loved one, even if he caused his own demise. They should have either given a proper award if they agreed with the plaintiffs or given them nothing if the suit was without merit.

But we can fairly ask if the suit should have been heard to begin with. While protests erupted over the shooting originally, it seems as if the Grand Jury did their job. The investigation concluded that Hill had pulled a gun on the Sheriff’s Deputies and was heavily intoxicated. They found the gun on him. That was apparently enough to justify the decision not to prosecute and the whole thing should have ended there.

But as with many criminal cases or police actions these days, a finding of no wrongdoing in the court system can seemingly be ignored. We’ve seen this from both sides of the thin blue line. Plenty of cops who are accused, but later cleared of malice in a lethal force situation have been sued, sometimes successfully. From the other side of the coin, O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murdering two people but went on to lose a very expensive civil suit for wrongful death. I’ve never understood how you build a successful case based on a claim that someone murdered another human being when the legal system was unable to prove the charge. There needs to be a higher bar for such lawsuits.