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Articles Tagged with civil rights

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This has been some week. Our Georgia Community was in the grips of disbelief and shock due to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Glenn County, Georgia, hoping and praying that things could not get worse…and then they did. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has electrified the Nation to protest for Equal Justice Under Law for African-Americans, which is overdue by about 200 years. Because of these recent murders of African American males, the term of art “excessive force” has, unfortunately, wormed its way into our daily lexicon, heard as frequently now as “Facebook” or “Twitter” or “Coronavirus” (remember that?).  So let’s look at what exactly is “excessive force,” how do you bring a lawsuit for “excessive force” and how difficult are they to be successful?

First, a civil action for “excessive force” by a police officer must be brought against the individual police officer, not the police department, pursuant to a Federal Statute, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. That statute states:

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.”

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Judge Horace Ward. Photo by John Disney/Daily Report.

Judge Horace Ward. Photo by John Disney/Daily Report.

I have just learned that Judge Horace Ward has died. He was a true Civil Rights Legend. There will never be another Horace Ward. We owe him a debt of gratitude for all he endured and accomplished. He truly left the world a better place.  In his memory, I am reprinting below my letter to the Editors of the Daily Report and the Atlanta Daily World written on the occasion of his retirement in 2012. God bless Judge Ward.

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The recent news about a young veteran who had mental health problems and was found running naked in his apartment complex, who the police shot, has the attention of many Georgia residents, especially me.  You probably have read or seen the story on the news.  Anthony Hill was a 27 year old U.S. Veteran who had known mental health problems, including bipolar disorder. He was found running naked around his apartment complex knocking on doors.  He had done no harm to anyone. He was obviously unarmed as he was naked!  Witnesses indicate Mr. Hill was about 180 feet away from the DeKalb County police officer who ultimately shot him when the officer first encountered Mr. Hill.  The DeKalb County police officer, like every other police officer, was armed with a taser.  For unknown reasons, the officer pulled his gun instead and shot Mr. Hill. Mr. Hill died.

As far as I have seen in news reports, Mr. Hill had violated no law (except maybe public decency?), had harmed no one, had not touched the police officer, had not resisted arrest…in short had done absolutely nothing to justify being killed at the hands of a DeKalb County police officer. Is this excessive force?  Absolutely!  Is it a crime?  Yes, I think it is. This conduct, shooting a totally innocent, obviously unarmed man rises to the level of a crime, manslaughter perhaps, and the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office should seek an indictment. And if you don’t think for a minute that Mr. Hill could have been you or your loved one, you need to think again.

What is going on with police forces lately?  There seems to have been a rash of unjustified shootings of innocent, unarmed people. Some of these shootings are race-related, for sure.  But there doesn’t seem (at least right now) to be a racial issue involved with the shooting of Mr. Hill.  What was involved was the patently obvious lack of appropriate training of police officers on how to deal with a person who is exhibiting signs of a psychotic break or mental instability.

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