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Widow of Georgia pastor gets $2.3 million in wrongful death suit

The wife of a baptist pastor that was gunned down by police in 2009 recently received a settlement of $2.3 million in a Gainesville federal district court. The jury determined a police officer used "excessive or unreasonable force" on the pastor when he unknowingly entered the scene of a drug sting in which two officers were undercover. The attorney for the officer claims that he will petition the court to get the verdict vacated. If that fails, the attorney stated that his client will appeal.

The 28-year-old pastor was shot in Toccoa on Sept. 1, 2009. Prior to the incident, police listed him as "a person of interest" when they witnessed him driving with a woman who was suspected of buying drugs. Officers took note of the pastor's license plate number. Church members later indicated that the man was spending time with the woman in an attempt to get her off of drugs.

The officer in question, along with his partner, eventually spotted the pastor's car at a Toccoa gas station. Surveillance video indicates that the undercover officers drove up next to the pastor's car, jumped out of their vehicle and began to run toward the pastor's car. The officers were wearing plain clothes, and they drove an unmarked Cadillac Escalade.

Believing the officers to be criminals, the pastor quickly started driving in reverse. He then shifted forward in order to pull away. The officer fired shots, believing that the pastor was trying to run the policemen over with his car. After an investigation was conducted, a grand jury decided that the officer was legally justified in his use of lethal force. The pastor was taken to a local hospital where he eventually succumbed to his wounds.

Despite the grand jury's ruling, the pastor's wife filed a civil wrongful death suit in 2010. The lawsuit stated that the officers unreasonably violated the pastor's Fourth Amendment rights while leading him to believe that they were possibly drug dealers or some other type of criminal. The officers were also accused of failing to follow proper protocol by not calling for backup from uniformed officers or clearly marked police vehicles. This story serves as an example that attorneys can sometimes help victims' families receive damages, despite the outcome of a related criminal trial.

Source: ABP News, "Jury awards $2.3 million in pastor’s wrongful death" Bob Allen, Feb. 21, 2014

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