Jury Awards North Carolina Soldier $750K in Training Shooting

October 29, 2009

A former Army sergeant wounded during a military training exercise was awarded at least $750,000 in his lawsuit against the Moore County, North Carolina Sheriff’s Office and the former deputy who shot him.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that the federal jury in Greensboro awarded the money to former Army Sgt. Stephen Phelps, who was injured in the February 2002 shooting that killed another soldier. He had sued the sheriff’s office and former Deputy Randall Butler.

“I was happy that the truth finally came out,” Phelps said after the verdict was read Tuesday night.

The jury awarded $650,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 or $200,000 in punitive damages. Phelps’ lawyer, Carlos Mahoney, had sought $1.2 million.

Moore County Sheriff Lane Carter said neither he nor Butler would comment. Jim Morgan, who represented Butler and the sheriff’s office, declined to comment on whether they would appeal the verdict.

Phelps and 1st Lt. Tallas Tomeny had been taking part in Robin Sage, an exercise that trains soldiers for Special Forces. Tomeny was killed, and his estate settled out of court.

During Robin Sage, soldiers simulate infiltration of a foreign nation. Phelps and Charles Leiber, a civilian who was playing the role of an adviser, testified that they thought Butler stopping their vehicle was part of the exercise.

Butler had argued that the men were acting suspiciously in an area that had experienced a lot burglaries. Butler also said he saw two machine guns and that Tomeny had told Phelps to kill him.

Jurors said they didn’t believe Butler’s claims about the guns or the order to kill. Greg Harris of Hoke County said he found Phelps and Leiber more believable than Butler.

“Mr. Leiber’s testimony was pretty strong,” he said. “And Phelps – (the lawyers) couldn’t get him crossed up. His story stayed the same throughout his testimony.”

Harris said Butler’s story changed.

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