New Jersey city was the target of wrongful death action
The city of Paterson is one of the named defendants in a lawsuit filed last month. The lawsuit is the result of a police shooting that occurred on New Year’s Day of 2012.
The brother of a 38-year-old man who was shot in the back by a Paterson police officer filed the action in federal court a few days after Christmas.
The lawsuit alleges that the officer in question fired at the victim without just cause or provocation. The county prosecutor’s office claims that the officer saw the victim with a gun, and ordered him to show his hands, at which time the victim placed the gun in his waistband. According to the authorities, the man was shot in the back because the officer had to maneuver into position to avoid hitting anyone else. The man’s family believes the fact that he was shot in the back clearly shows he was not a threat to the officer.
There is also some dispute with regard to a weapon allegedly found under the victim’s body. A grand jury found that the shooting was justified, and no criminal charges were leveled at the officer.
The fact that no criminal charges were filed, however, does not mean the wrongful death action cannot succeed. Because the evidentiary bar in a civil lawsuit is set lower than that in a criminal trial, a civil action can be won, even where no criminal case can be made. Such cases can be complex, though, especially when the defendant is a governmental entity or officer acting under color of law. In such cases, there are issues of federalism and sovereign immunity that need to be dealt with, and one should ensure that one is prepared for such legal roadblocks.
Nonetheless, government officials need to be held responsible for actions that might have been negligent or reckless, and victims are entitled to pursue compensation, just as they would against a private citizen. While nothing will bring a dead relative back, in the absence of a criminal conviction, a wrongful death suit may help bring some sense of justice to a victim’s family.