Tennessee City Officials to Settle in Fatal Police Shooting

By BILL POOVEY | January 27, 2012

Chattanooga, Tenn., city officials agreed to pay $33,500 to end an appeal of a federal lawsuit seeking damages in a fatal shooting when six police officers fired 59 times at an armed man on his porch.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said Wednesday that the settlement was reached through a federal mediation process and approved Tuesday by City Council members. It ends the appeal filed by Alonzo Heyward’s family over the judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

Police described his July 18, 2009, death as a case of “suicide by cop.”

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report concluded officers who repeatedly told Heyward, 32, to drop the weapon were in “reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm to themselves or others.” No charges were filed.

An attorney for Heyward’s family, Archie Sanders III of Memphis, declined comment Wednesday.

The wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit said Heyward pointed the rifle only at himself and never said or did anything to make the officers fear for their lives. The suit described how the officers fired simultaneously in three separate volleys, although Heyward never pulled the trigger.

The suit also said the number of gunshots was “obviously a factor” in its contention that police violated Heyward’s constitutional rights, including freedom from the use of deadly, unreasonable, unjustified and excessive force.

The medical examiner found 43 bullet wounds in Heyward’s chest, face, arms, hands, legs, buttocks and groin.

U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier dismissed the suit last year, saying the shooting followed Heyward refusing the officers’ orders to drop the weapon.

McMahan said the city’s decision was to avoid possible further costs because “you never know about an appeal.” There was no admission of any wrongdoing by the city or the officers and in continuing the court dispute “we would have spent a lot more.”

McMahan said the settlement payout is designed to go to three children. He said he was unsure if any of the family’s legal fees would be paid from the $33,500.

“That’s not up to us,” he said.

The officers’ attorney, Bryan Hoss, said there was a telephone discussion with a mediator but the amount of the payout did not stem from any offer by the officers or the city.

Hoss previously said his clients correctly followed police procedures by first directing Heyward to drop the loaded gun and then trying unsuccessfully to disarm him with a stun gun before Heyward “turned around and lowered the gun and pointed it at them.”

“Obviously the officers didn’t do anything wrong here,” he said Wednesday. “The end result is all claims are dismissed against the officers. We are certainly glad it’s over.”

When the TBI investigation report was released, Heyward’s father, James L. Marine, questioned why his son’s girlfriend and other witnesses were never interviewed and described it as a “waste of taxpayer money.” Marine said his son was shot while “laying on the porch.” TBI declined comment about his complaint.

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