A federal jury awarded $600,000 on Wednesday to a man who was shot four times by Prince George’s County police in 2014 while in the passenger’s seat of a vehicle.
Darren Kevin Jones suffered injuries to his liver, side, leg and hand but survived, according to Stephen P. Norman, one of his lawyers. Police claimed the vehicle, driven by Carlos Barksdale, struck one of the officers as it left the driveway of a residence, which lead to them firing shots in self -defense.
But Norman, of The Normal Law Firm LLC in Delaware, said the officers’ stories about where Jones and Barksdale, and later the car, were during the incident changed and conflicted with an eyewitness account. There was also insufficient documentation of the injury one of the officers claimed he received when the car struck him, Norman said.
The incident occurred on April 5, 2014 when Jones asked Barksdale to borrow his dirt bike and the two went to a house occupied by Barksdale’s ex-girlfriend to retrieve it, according to the complaint. Barksdale parked in the driveway and his ex-girlfriend called the police while the two were attempting to start the dirt bike.
Two police officers arrived and said something Jones said he did not hear as he got into the passenger seat of the car. The officers began shooting as the car left the driveway and drove away.
“I think because there was an officer involved, (police investigators) didn’t lift the stones,” Norman said. “Nobody lifted the stones. Everybody spoke in generalities.”
The eyewitness, Barksdale’s ex-girlfriend, was recalcitrant, according to Norman, and spent hours on the stand denying previous statements which corroborated Jones’ version of events.
“It was a very delicate dance to lock her into all her prior sworn statements,” Norman said, praising co-counsel Andrew Jezic for his work questioning the witness.
“Her testimony in the past was very helpful to us but she didn’t want to help us at all,” added Jezic, of Jezic, Krum & Moyse LLC in Silver Spring.
Jones has healed but still has pain in the hand that was injured and required multiple surgeries. He owns his own towing business and is back at work without any significant foreseeable medical expenses as a result of the incident, according to Norman.
“I think relieved is probably the biggest feeling that he’s having,” he said. “I think he’s happy. This is a life-changing event.”
Jezic, who represented Jones in his criminal case after the officers charged him with assault and burglary, said he thinks Jones feels “vindicated” and added he’s hopeful there is no appeal because U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis “did a fabulous job” presiding.
A spokesman for Prince George’s County did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.
Though several state and federal claims survived a motion for summary judgment in September, Norman said only the federal excessive force claim went to the jury because they felt their case was strong and any damages would not be subject to the cap imposed on state torts.
“If we’re going to win, let’s win on Fourth Amendment excessive force,” Norman said, describing the strategy. “Let’s win it clean.”
The claim triggered interesting threshold issues about seizure, according to Norman, because Jones was taken into custody at the hospital and never detained at the scene because Barksdale drove away.
“I think it was pretty overwhelming that our guy was seized because the seizure was ultimately related to the shooting,” he said.
Jezic said the law suggests that if there is a delay between the incident and the arrest, a jury could find that the plaintiff was not detained for the purposes of an excessive force claim.
“Even though, if we were in a Fourth Amendment suppression hearing, clearly we would win the issue of seizure,” he said. “But because our client got away and then wasn’t found by the cops for another 40 minutes at the hospital, they generated this issue for the jury.”
The parties debated whether the issue was a factual one for the jury or a legal one for the judge. Xinis ultimately found the issue was a mixed question of law and fact and submitted it to the jury.
The jury deliberated for six hours over two days before reaching its verdict, according to Norman.
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DARREN KEVIN JONES V. OFFICER GARY ALLEN, ET AL.
Court: U.S. District
Case No.: 8:15-cv-001173-PX
Judge: Paula Xinis
Outcome: Verdict for plaintiff
Incident: April 5, 2014
Suit filed: April 24, 2015
Disposition: Nov. 2, 2016
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Stephen P. Norman, of The Norman Law Firm LLC in Delaware; Andrew Jezic and Jonathan Carroll of Jezic, Krum & Moyse LLC in Silver Spring.
Defense Attorney: Gessesse Teferi of the Prince George’s County Office of Law
Count: Fourth Amendment use of excessive force