CHARLESTON -- The widow of a Charleston police officer, who was killed in a friendly fire incident two years ago, last week filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Charleston and the officer whose stray bullet killed her husband.
Samantha Jones filed the lawsuit Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. The named defendants are the city and Christopher Burford.
Jones is seeking money damages and declaratory and injunctive relief against the city and Burford for "intentional and/or reckless acts of a government employee directed against another government employee," according to the 12-page complaint.
Jones argues that the city and Burford's conduct deprived her husband of a constitutionally protected right.
She alleges that these "constitutional violations" were committed as a result of the "deliberate indifference" towards the policies, staffing, training and customs of the city and its police department, and that the city is liable for Burford's actions.
Jones also argues that her husband, Jerry, did not forfeit all constitutional rights when he became a member of the Charleston Police Department "and that like all individual officers," he maintained some constitutional rights that, if violated by a "state actor," can result in liability.
In particular, Jones argues that her husband retained his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure by a fellow officer while performing his police work.
The lawsuit stems from a Sept. 12, 2009 police chase.
Suspect Brian Good collided with a truck occupied by a former girlfriend about 9 p.m. in downtown Charleston. A 911 call was placed, to which a Charleston police officer responded.
Good then led police on a chase through and around the Charleston area. The initial pursuit and chase, which did not include Jerry Jones, was eventually called off after Good successfully evaded police
Then, sometime after midnight, Jerry Jones spotted Good's truck in Charleston's East End.
After calling in his discovery to police department dispatch, Jones pursued Good from the intersection of Washington Street and Ruffner Avenue to Greenbrier Street and then to Route 114 and finally onto Quick Road in rural Kanawha County.
He was joined in the pursuit by various police officers, including but not limited to Charleston Police Cpl. Travis Hawley in his Dodge Durango K1, Officer Owen Morris in Car 103 and Officer Burford in Car 104.
Eventually, the suspect pulled over in a gravel area along Quick Road in rural Kanawha County. By then, at least three other police officers in their patrol cars joined in the pursuit and were following Jones.
After pulling into the gravel area, Good spun his vehicle around in a "doughnut fashion" and evaded Jones' vehicle.
By this time, Hawley and Morris arrived at Quick Road and placed their respective vehicles in position to prevent Good from leaving the gravel area.
Specifically, Hawley pulled his Durango around Morris' patrol car in an effort to match bumpers with Good.
Morris exited his vehicle with his weapon drawn.
Then, Burford arrived and stopped his vehicle behind Morris' vehicle, making his way to the driver's side of the suspect's vehicle with his weapon drawn.
At some point, Jones parked his car in a perpendicular fashion with Quick Road and exited his vehicle.
Despite several commands from various law enforcement officers to Good to stop and to exit his vehicle, he refused. Instead, he used his truck in an attempt to escape the area barricaded by Hawley and Morris.
The officers on the scene then opened fire on Good, striking him with several bullets. Jones, who was on foot approaching Good's vehicle on the passenger side, was struck by one of the bullets fired by Burford.
Jones died that night as the result of a gunshot wound. He was 27.
Samantha Jones, in her lawsuit, claims that Good was not an immediate threat to Burford, who is still an officer with the Charleston Police Department and has since been promoted.
She also contends that Burford did not issue a warning before using deadly force.
"Defendant, Christopher Burford intentionally fired his weapon at Brian Good's vehicle before and without accounting for the location of his fellow Officers, including, Jerry Jones," the lawsuit alleges. "As a direct and proximate result of the acts of Defendants, Plaintiff's decedent, Jerry Jones suffered severe injuries which eventually resulted in his death.
"The actions of Defendants violated clearly established and well settled federal constitutional rights of Plaintiff's decedent to be free from unreasonable seizure."
The city, through its training and control of its patrol officers, was "the moving force" behind Burford's actions, the lawsuit alleges.
"It was the policy and/or custom of the City of Charleston to inadequately supervise and train its police officers, including Defendant Christopher Burford, thereby failing to adequately discourage further constitutional violations on the part of its police officers," according to the lawsuit.
In addition to money damages and declaratory and injunctive relief, Jones also seeks an order declaring Burford's conduct unconstitutional, attorneys fees and costs, and a permanent injunction requiring the city to adopt "appropriate policies" related to the training and supervision of its police officers.
She also demands a jury trial.
Jones is represented by J. Michael Ranson, Cynthia M. Ranson and George B. Morrone III of the Charleston law firm Ranson Law Offices.