Defendants opposed liability, damages
Lawyers’ Weekly — The Estate of Milton Hall filed a federal civil rights, police misconduct and wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Saginaw over a “firing squad” execution by Saginaw Police Department officers on July 1, 2012.
Hall, a 49-year-old, mentally disturbed, African-American man, was in the parking lot of a busy shopping center in midday and reportedly stole a cup of coffee from a gas station. The incident was witnessed by scores of people and lasted approximately 15 minutes with Hall cornered and armed only with a 3-inch pocket knife.
The police and citizens’ video and audio demonstrated what plaintiff argued to be totally improper use of a police dog and a complete failure of command and control by the police department.
Plaintiffs’ police practices experts indicated that the incident was the worst handled standoff that they had ever seen, as it involved an essentially unarmed, mentally disturbed man who had committed no serious crime. The experts criticized the fact that there was no command structure or officer in charge at the scene, and that the officers brought a canine unit in to harass and threaten the terrified Hall.
Plaintiffs contended that the dog was allowed to approach and lunge at Hall repeatedly with the threat that it would be let loose if Hall did not drop the knife. Plaintiff added that Hall was so terrified that he actually called 911 himself for help.
Plaintiffs said that once the dog was led up toward Hall the last time and he turned toward it, but away from the officers, the officers began firing without command. Forty-seven shots were fired, 11 of them striking Hall, five in the back. Plaintiffs alleged that the officers killed a man to protect a dog that should not have been there and was not in danger.
Hall died at the scene despite attempts at emergency medical care. No negotiators were brought to the scene, no alternative use of lesser force was employed, and no attempt was exercised to simply wait out the situation and let Hall calm down.
Defendants vigorously opposed liability and damages. For damages, defendants focused on the fact that the decedent was living in Michigan while his family was in Arizona; was mentally ill; had not worked for years; and was not a source of support for his mother or his sister, his surviving heirs.
Plaintiffs focused on the pain Hall suffered concomitant with being shot 11 times, particularly because most of the bullets both entered and exited Hall’s body, as well as the companionship loss to the mother, Jewel Hall. Plaintiffs asserted that the loss of a mother’s son is an exquisite loss, not minimized by the son’s mental illness.
After an unsuccessful attempt to privately negotiate the matter, the parties went to facilitation and reached a $725,000 settlement.
Type of action: Civil rights, police misconduct, wrongful death
Type of injuries: Death, loss of society and companionship
Name of case: Hall v. City of Saginaw
Court/Case no./Date: U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan; 13-cv-14141; May 6, 2014
Name of judge: Judge Thomas L. Ludington
Settlement amount: $725,000
Most helpful experts: Ernest Burwell, police practices, Thompson Falls, Montana; Roger Clark, police practices, San Diego
Insurance carrier(s): Withheld
Attorneys for plaintiff: Hugh M. Davis Jr., Cynthia Heenan, Debra A. Freid
Attorney(s) for defendant: Withheld