MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia city has agreed to settle an excessive force lawsuit filed by the family of a homeless Black man who was shot 22 times by police, an attorney said.
Christopher E. Brown, the attorney for the family of Wayne Arnold Jones, told The Washington Post that the lawsuit was settled for $3.5 million.
“I promised my mother before she died that we would continue to fight for justice,” Jones’ brother, Bruce Jones, told the newspaper. “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.”
The Martinsburg Police Department said in a statement that the settlement was not an admission of guilt.
Police had stopped Wayne Jones as he was walking on a Martinsburg street. Jones was shot after police said the 50-year-old Stephens City, Virginia, resident shrugged off two jolts from a stun gun, fought with officers and stabbed one of them. The officers are white.
U.S. District Judge Gina Groh had dismissed the lawsuit. But a three-member federal appeals court panel reversed the granting of summary judgment to the officers on qualified immunity grounds last month, saying that “a reasonable jury could find that Jones was both secured and incapacitated in the final moments before his death.”
The court also referenced the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after white police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes. That death prompted protests by millions of people around the world
The appeals panel noted that “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. This has to stop.”
The police department’s statement said the city’s insurance carrier agreed to the settlement to avoid the ongoing costs of litigation along with the stress that a trial would bring to the officers and the families of the officers and Jones.
The city of Martinsburg said in the statement that “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.”
A Berkeley County grand jury declined to indict the officers in the shooting. The U.S. Justice Department later said there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal civil rights charges against police. Civil rights leaders had pressed for the investigation.
The Jones family has filed a separate appeal in state court seeking a grand jury investigation, Brown said.
“The fact that I could tell my client that we still have a shot at criminal prosecution made the (settlement) figure very acceptable,” Brown said.