The 11thU.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this month that a Forsyth County resident has a case against a former Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office deputy who shot him.
The August 2007 standoff at the home of Joseph Lamar Knight came to a head when former Sgt. Ben Finley shot Knight in the chest from about three feet away with a beanbag round, considered “less lethal” ammunition, according to the appeals court opinion.
Deputies responded to the home after Knight’s wife called 911 with a concern that her 67-year-old husband may have overdosed on medication, as stated in a transcript of the call in court documents.
Knight, who was reportedly intoxicated at the time, barricaded himself in a bedroom at the home when deputies arrived, according to the county’s statement of material facts, and he was shot with the beanbag when he opened the door.
Knight suffered injuries from the incident, after which he was admitted to the hospital in critical condition and released nine days later.
His attorney, Adam Knight, said the recent appeals court decision leaves only Finley in the case, after three deputies named in the original complaint appealed the U.S. District Court ruling to deny the request for summary judgment.
The next step could be a jury trial, as requested, back at the district court level, said Adam Knight, who is also the grandson of the plaintiff.
“The hopeful outcome would be for him to have his day in court and for a jury to award and find officer Finley used excessive force,” he said.
Adam Knight said of the defendants originally named, Finley caused “the most egregious harm,” as the one who fired the shot.
Joseph Knight is seeking damages and attorney’s fees in the case, which he filed in July 2009 in U.S. District Court against Forsyth County, the sheriff’s office and the deputies involved in the incident, including Finley.
He cited a violation of his Constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as state law torts for assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional and physical distress.
In May 2012, the District Court tossed the Fourth Amendment violation argument, citing qualified immunity for the deputies.
However, the judge “denied summary judgment with regard to Knight’s claim that the officers used excessive force when Finley shot Knight, a 67-year-old man, in the upper chest with a bean-bag round, and when [Mark] Hoffman and [David] Marsh forcibly removed Knight from the home,” according to the appeals court summary of the district court’s ruling.
The three deputies appealed in June 2012, and the appeals court issued its opinion earlier this month.
The decision states that: “Although Knight was not complying with police orders when he barricaded himself in his bedroom, a reasonable jury could find that he posed no immediate danger to the officers that would have justified the use of deadly force against him, and the district court was therefore correct to deny qualified immunity to [Sgt.] Finley.”
The court overturned the first decision with respect to Hoffman and Marsh, finding that the evidence was not convincing that the two violated law by forcibly removing Knight, noting that he was intoxicated and had barricaded himself in a bedroom.
Finley left the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office in March 2008, and currently works for another law enforcement agency.
In his complaint, Knight contended that his wife had told all the deputies that he did not have access to loaded weapons in the home. He was unarmed when he opened the door to the bedroom.
The county contends that Knight threatened deputies with lethal force if they opened the door, and so “Finley believed it was necessary to deploy a less-lethal beanbag munition against [Knight] in order to resolve the situation without the threat of lethal force being realized,” according to his deposition.