Lawsuit dismissed in police shooting

Lawsuit dismissed in police shooting

July 15th, 2011 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

Almost two years after a man was killed when six Chattanooga police officers fired 43 bullets at him, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against the city by the man's family.

In a summary judgement issued Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier disposed of the claims brought against the city by the family of Alonzo Heyward.

Heyward, 32, was killed July 18, 2009, during an early morning standoff with police, during which he dared the officers to shoot him while he was holding a rifle.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation had cleared the officers in 2009, but Heyward's family had pressed forward with a lawsuit, claiming the officers were not adequately trained in use-of-force policy and created an "atmosphere of illegal and unconstitutional behavior" in "deliberate indifference and reckless disregard" for the public welfare, the federal court lawsuit stated.

The trial had been set for the final week of July. But in response to the defense's motion for a summary judgement, Collier ordered that the officers were completely justified in their decision to use deadly force as Heyward began to enter a home during the standoff that night - a home the officers did not know was Heyward's own.

"In order to prevent Heyward from entering the house and potentially harming civilians, firing at the police from cover, or even initiating a hostage situation - all reasonable possibilities in light of Heyward's repeated implied threats, disregard for police authority, intoxicated state, "locked and loaded" disposition - the Officers were, at the moment if not before, entitled to use deadly force against him," Collier stated in his judgement

The plaintiff's case was brought on behalf of Heyward's children with two women.

Allen Johnson, the grandfather of Heyward's daughter Aniyha Heyward, said the case's dismissal is disappointing.

The officers alleged that Heyward had pointed the gun down in their direction, while other witnesses claimed he never did.

Collier said ultimately that whether the gun was lowered toward the officers was "immaterial to the question of whether it was reasonable for the officers to use deadly force at this moment."

Attorney Bryan Hoss, who represented the officers, said the ruling came as a surprise and a relief for the officers, who were preparing for a two-week trial.

"They're ready to move on. It's been weighing on them for two years now," said Hoss said. "It's clear vindication that what they did was right."

Staff writer Andrew Pantazi contributed to this story.