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Part of lawsuit from fatal 2009 CPD chase is dismissed

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A judge has dismissed parts of a federal lawsuit filed in the aftermath of a 2009 police chase that led to the death of Charleston police officer Jerry Jones, who was struck by a bullet fired from another officer's gun.

U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin issued the order, which appears to absolve the city of Charleston of liability in the death of Brian Good, the man police were targeting the day Jones was caught in the crossfire.

Several officers followed Good in a chase that ended near Pinch, with several police cruisers hemming in Good's vehicle. As Good continued to try to drive away, three officers, including Jones, fired their service weapons. Good and Jones were killed in the exchange.

The lawsuit, filed by Good's mother, Patricia Harrison, alleged that the city's training practices and the officers' negligent actions caused Good's death.

Harrison originally filed the lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court, where it was dismissed. Her lawyers sought to move the case to federal court on claims that Good's constitutional rights were violated.

Goodwin's order appears to dismiss any claims against the city of Charleston by deferring to the state court's ruling, because the facts in the federal lawsuit did not differ from what was filed in circuit court.

"The constitutional issues arise from exactly the same factual allegations appearing in the state court action and could have been resolved if they had been presented in that action," Goodwin writes.

The judge also found that the officers involved -- including Officer Christopher Burford, who allegedly fired the shot that killed Jones -- were not liable for constitutional violations in their official capacities, and that they carried qualified immunity from those violations because they were acting under the law when Good and Jones were killed.

Goodwin dismissed four claims in the lawsuit: that the officers and the city violated Good's constitutional rights; that the officers used excessive force; that they failed to intervene to prevent the use of excessive force; and assault.

Thursday's filing raises questions about the exact state of the lawsuit. Harold Albertson, Harrison's lawyer, said it is not clear whether there are any defendants left in the case now that the city and the officers, at least in part, were found not liable on the constitutional claims.

Albertson said the order appears to find that the city is not responsible for acts of its individual officers.

"What part of the lawsuit remains against the individual officers? I don't know the answer to that," Albertson said.

Michael Mullins, the lead attorney for the city, did not return a phone call Friday.

Goodwin's staff said Friday afternoon they could not clarify the order, or say where the case now stands.

Harrison's lawsuit is one of several filed in the wake of the fatal incident.

In March, Goodwin dismissed a lawsuit against the city filed on behalf of Jones' widow, Samantha.

The lawsuit claimed that Burford stripped Jones of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure when he indirectly killed Jones, and that the Charleston Police Department failed to properly train officers to avoid committing constitutional violations.

Goodwin ruled Jones' death accidental, and noted that he was not the intended target, which is a required element of an alleged Fourth Amendment breach.

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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