Court lets suit by Michael Brown’s friend press on
St. Louis — A federal appeals court has upheld a judge’s refusal to throw out a lawsuit questioning a Ferguson police officer’s use of force involving the man who was with Michael Brown when that officer shot Brown to death three years ago.
Tuesday’s 2-1 ruling by an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel sided with Dorian Johnson in concluding that former officer Darren Wilson and ex-chief Thomas Jackson are not immune from such litigation. The court also found that Johnson sufficiently alleged that Wilson violated his rights.
Johnson says that as he walked with Brown, Wilson illegally detained him by using his police vehicle to block their path. Moments later, Wilson shot and killed Brown. Johnson fled and was not wounded.
Johnson insists in his lawsuit that Wilson “acted with deliberate indifference or reckless disregard” for Johnson’s rights, used excessive force and essentially detained him unlawfully by using his police vehicle to impede his movement.
The 8th Circuit on Tuesday agreed, with Judge Michael Melloy writing for the panel’s majority that based on Johnson’s version “the law was sufficiently clear” that “a reasonable officer in Officer Wilson’s position would not have shot his gun.”
The 8th Circuit’s Roger Wollman countered that Johnson’s movements were not illegally restrained by Wilson and that the lawsuit should be thrown out, likening Johnson’s flight to that “of a moonshine-carrying” defendant.
Brown’s death launched months of protests and led to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found racial bias in Ferguson’s police and court system. But a St. Louis County grand jury and the Justice Department cleared Wilson, who resigned in November 2014.
Ferguson reached a settlement with the Justice Department that calls for revised police practices, court changes and other modifications.
In June, a federal judge in St. Louis approved a $1.5 million settlement to Brown’s parents in their 2015 wrongful-death lawsuit against Ferguson, Wilson and Jackson, who each denied wrongdoing.
Johnson’s lawsuit alleges Ferguson and Jackson condoned unconstitutional police policies that breached his civil rights, including failing to properly train and supervise officers. Johnson also claims Wilson’s actions caused him emotional distress.
Melloy wrote in Tuesday’s ruling that “just as a passenger would understand that no one in the car is free to leave during a traffic stop, one of two pedestrians stopped by a single police roadblock would understand that he was not free to leave, even if the officer only directly engaged with the other pedestrian.”
“Officer Wilson’s show of authority did not single out Brown as he walked alongside Johnson,” Melloy added.