The family of a Black man who died after being shot by officers 22 times has reached a $3.5 million settlement deal with a West Virginia city. The legal battle spanned seven years, and the case was dismissed several times before a federal appeals court got involved.
On the night of March 13, 2013, 50-year-old Wayne Arnold Jones was stopped by officers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, who claimed he was walking on the street rather than the sidewalk. Wayne, who was homeless and had been previously diagnosed with schizophrenia, was placed in a chokehold before being shot 22 times while lying on the ground.
The five officers involved, all of whom are white, say Wayne struggled against them, and that he stabbed one officer with a pocketknife.
Jones’ family sued the city of Martinsburg, and accused the officers of using excessive force. The case was dismissed when a judge decided the officers had qualified immunity, insulating them from civil suits.
The case was dismissed again by a U.S. District Court judge, but a federal appeals court reversed this decision last month and decided that qualified immunity did not protect the officers from plaintiffs seeking legal recourse.
“A reasonable jury could find that Jones was both secured and incapacitated in the final moments before his death,” the three-member panel wrote in a statement. The death of George Floyd and subsequent public outrage appears to have played a role in the decision to reverse the previous ruling, as the panel cited Floyd’s death in the statement.
The police department has said that the city chose to settle the lawsuit in order to avoid the stress of a trial. “With this settlement, the City and the MPD hope everyone involved will be able to put this incident behind them and allow the community to heal,” the city of Martinsburg said in a statement. However, the police department maintained its innocence, claiming the settlement is not an admission of guilt.
Bruce Jones, Jones’ brother, said he promised their mother prior to her death that he would continue to fight for justice. “The settlement makes me feel a little bit better, but until I can have a chance to have these cops prosecuted, I am still going to be pushing for justice, he said.
The U.S. Justice Department said there is not sufficient evidence to press criminal charge against the officers in charge, but Jones’ family has filed to pursue a grand jury investigation.