Friday, June 14, 2024

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Graham police officer, former chief, and department sued for alleged wrongful death


The estate of a Graham man shot and killed by police in 2020 is suing the Graham police department, its former chief, and one of its officers for alleged wrongful death.

The lawsuit follows two independent 2020 investigations into the death which cleared both the officer and the department of any wrongdoing.

The lawsuit, filed two weeks ago in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, alleges that a Graham police officer, Marcus Pollock, violated the constitutional rights of Jaquyn O’Neill Light by “shooting him with a firearm at close range [knowing Light] was unarmed [and] was committing no crime,” the complaint states.

The full text of the lawsuit can be read HERE:

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Light, then 20, black male, died from blood loss caused by a single gunshot wound to the left side of his abdomen and navel, an autopsy by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner later revealed.

In its suit, Light’s estate alleges that the actions by former Graham police chief Jeff Prichard (who retired in 2020), officer Pollock, and the city of Graham “constitute egregious, malicious, corrupt, excessive, and objectively unreasonable use of force and improper police conduct [causing] him to endure excruciating pain, mental suffering, unjustified incarceration, and his death.”

Pollock had been dispatched to a home along East Elm Street in Graham shortly before midnight on January 28, 2020 to serve four outstanding warrants on Light, who had been wanted on two outstanding misdemeanor charges of communicating threats and simple assault, as well as two probation violations for felony breaking and entering and felony larceny.

Officer Pollock, who is black, later told investigators with the State Bureau of Investigation that his .45-caliber sidearm had accidentally discharged after Light collided with him in the yard outside of a home at 716 East Elm Street in Graham, based on details of the case that Alamance County district attorney Sean Boone outlined during a lengthy presentation of the evidence and subsequent press conference in July 2020.

The SBI investigation – which included a review of video footage recorded by the body camera worn by one of two other Graham police officers who had gone to the residence to assist Pollock with serving the warrants on Light – concluded that the shooting had been accidental.

Those two other Graham police officers who had gone to the residence to assist Pollock with serving the warrants later corroborated Pollock’s account that his gun discharged accidentally during a scuffle that began as Light attempted to flee. Light was pronounced dead at the scene.

An independent investigation by the district attorney’s office, conducted shortly after the shooting by Boone and two assistant D.A.s who specialize in prosecuting felony deaths, yielded the same conclusion: there was no probable cause to suggest Pollock had engaged in any conduct that would support a criminal charge, which could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial.

Read response HERE from Graham Police Department (on Thursday, February 17, after Alamance News edition printed), emphasizing that SBI and District Attorney’s office had cleared the Graham police officer involved of any wrongdoing.

Light attempted to leave the residence via a doorway that had been closed off and covered with black plastic sheeting, obscuring Pollock from view while the two other Graham police officers spoke with two residents inside the kitchen.

“Light made his way towards the closed-off front doorway of the porch and made his way through the bottom right corner of the secured plastic covering the doorway,” Boone noted in a report of the investigation that his office released in July 2020. “At that time, there would have been no reason for him to suspect that an officer would be positioned outside of the sealed exit.”

As Light emerged from behind the plastic sheeting, Pollock identified himself and gave verbal commands to comply.

Light collided directly into Pollock’s chest. The officer attempted to subdue the suspect with his left hand, and as he did, the gun he was holding in his right hand went off, based on the timeline of events that the D.A. outlined during his July 2020 press conference.

“Officer Pollock, a black male with dark complexion, was dressed entirely in dark blue; he was standing approximately 3 to 6 feet from the bottom step of the porch, based on the location of the spent shell casing from his weapon,” according to a 10-page analysis that the D.A. included in his report with crime scene photos and a diagram showing the entry point and trajectory of the bullet that killed Light.

In its suit, Light’s estate contends that the city of Graham “engaged as a matter of policy…in inadequate screening, training, and supervision of its police officers with deliberate indifference to the rights of the city’s inhabitants with whom police come into contact including Jaquyn O’Neill Light, and deliberate indifference [to the need for better training and supervision for police officers].”

Light’s estate is seeking more than $75,000 in joint and individual awards for damages against each of the defendants under multiple alleged claims, including: deprivation of the deceased’s state and federal constitutional rights; negligence/gross negligence; as well as acts of malice, acts of corruption, and acts outside the scope of official duties.

Graham attorney Doug Green of the Smith Giles law firm is representing Light’s estate for the suit.

Meanwhile, Alamance County clerk of court Meredith Edwards, whose husband is employed with the Graham police department, recused herself from any future proceedings in mid-December 2021 to avoid any conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict, according to a notice included in the file for Light’s estate.

Neither the Graham police department nor its current police chief, Kristy Cole, had filed a response to the lawsuit by press time.

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