Man shot and killed in deputy involved shooting identified as Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr. pic.twitter.com/ytm4iQBFkS— angelarozier (@wpbf_angela) January 15, 2014
In 2014, Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr. was shot and killed by a St. Lucie County sheriff’s deputy. The only witnesses to the incident were the two deputies who came to the victim’s home. This week, the jury found one of them to be partially responsible for Hill’s death.
But their verdict was beyond shocking.
According to court documents, a mother picking up her children from school heard loud music coming from a garage of a home nearby. She called the police to report a noise complaint and two deputies, Christopher Newman and Edward Lopez, were dispatched to the spot. When they arrived at the place, they saw the garage door was closed. They banged on the door until Hill opened it.
It’s not clear from the police account what happened next. The deputies claim Hill had a gun and was told to drop; however, their claims are disputed. Hill, who worked at a Coca-Cola factory and had a record of serious traffic offenses, eventually started closing the garage door. That was when Deputy Newman decided to open fire, which went through the closing door.
The deputies obviously did not try to negotiate with Hill because the entire episode took only two minutes.
Eventually, backup arrived and the SWAT team released chemical agents into the home to flush out Hill. They also used a robot to cut through the garage door and take a photo of the insides. That’s when they realized Hill was dead. The 30-year-old was shot in his head and twice in his abdomen.
The only firearm that was found was a gun in Hill’s pocket, which was unloaded. Lawyers argue whether the victim had enough time to put the weapon back in his pocket before Newman started shooting.
Toxicology reports found Hill’s blood-alcohol content was several times over the legal limit to drive — which is not relevant to the case, since Hill was not driving, only sitting in a garage listening to music.
Hill’s mother, Viola Bryant, filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, citing Sheriff Ken Mascara’s deputies used unreasonable, excessive force to deal with the situation. But the jury did not agree with her claim.
A federal jury that was responsible for hearing the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Hill’s mother was asked to rule whether the man’s constitutional rights had been violated and how much damages should be awarded to his family.
After 8 hours, the jury was unable to vote unanimously. However, they were told to go back and continue their deliberation. Two hours later, they had a verdict.
They concluded Newman was within his right to shoot at Hill and did not use excessive force but said Sheriff Mascara was very slightly negligent, considering his deputy’s action. However, they believed that Hill was 99 percent at fault and so they awarded him $4 in damages: $1 for his funeral service and $1 for each of his three children for loss of parental companionship and suffering.
Jury Leaves $4 to Family of Man Killed by Sheriff’s Deputy, Along With Many Questions: Because jurors also found that Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr. was 99 percent liable for the shooting, the award was reduced to four cents. A judge is expected to reduce it to… https://t.co/VUIazWJ81B pic.twitter.com/rl0XBKzAhQ— Annapolis MD (@iniqywaGo) May 31, 2018
Then the jurors also found the sheriff’s office was just 1 percent responsible for the death, the compensation was further reduced to only 4 cents. Moreover, when jurors found that Hill was inebriated and apparently responsible for Newman firing his weapon, a judge is expected to reduce the four cents to nothing.
John M. Phillips, the lawyer representing Hill’s family, said he would have preferred if the jury had found no negligence at all from the sheriff’s office and the deputy rather than be awarded such unbelievably insignificant damages.
“I think they were trying to insult the case,” Phillips said, referring to the jury. “Why go there with the $1? That was the hurtful part.”
Sheriff Mascara also released a statement claiming his office was “pleased” to see the end of the tragic incident.
“Deputy Newman was placed in a very difficult situation, and like so many fellow law enforcement officers must do every day, he made the best decision he could for the safety of his partner, himself, and the public given the circumstances he faced,” he said on Facebook. “We appreciate the jury’s time and understanding.”
Lawyer Phillips said Hill’s mother was seeking at least several hundred thousand dollars in damages for her son’s death. He also regretted the fact that he jury did not bring criminal charges against Newman.
“There was a tug of war somewhere in there,” Hill’s fiancée, Monique Davis, said. “And then everybody’s mind changed to one? Something went on.”
“It seems like jurors gave up,” said Phillips.
The lawyer said he is going to appeal if his motion for a retrial is denied.
“I’m going to keep fighting until I get some justice,” said Davis, who was planning to marry Hill a few months from his death. “That’s the only way I’m going to get peace.”
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