Judge awards Memphis man $81,456 after US marshal shot at him during traffic stop

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Closing a case involving a non-fatal U.S. Marshals shooting and the question of fair compensation for post-traumatic stress, federal Judge Jon McCalla ordered an $81,456 payment to 24-year-old Jahmazeo Richardson of Memphis, in a ruling issued Wednesday.

The figure is more than three times the $25,000 amount that Assistant U.S. Attorney David Brackstone, the lawyer representing the U.S. Marshals Service, asked the judge to consider as the maximum fair compensation.   

That Richardson posed no threat was not in contention at trial. Nor was that marshal Mark Carney violated the agency’s use of force policy in shooting at him on April 1, 2015.

That evening, as Richardson drove home from the Coca-Cola plant where he worked, the then-20-year-old was pulled over and surrounded by a seven-member task force of U.S. Marshals and local law enforcement officers. With the permission of a Memphis police officer, Richardson then reached for his registration.

He testified about what happened next, during a one-day, non-jury trial in September.

“I reached down and basically heard a loud noise,” Richardson said on the stand through tears. “Glass breaking and a gunshot … I thought I was gonna die. I froze. I didn’t know if I’d been hit. I didn’t know what to think … It was completely quiet.”

Carney’s bullet missed, shattering Richardson’s window before lodging in the door of his car. He was then made to wait on a curb for two hours before being handed a ticket for allegedly running a red light.

Post-traumatic stress

Although he was not physically injured, there has been a profound impact on Richardson’s health since the shooting, McCalla wrote in his ruling.

“Richardson has been diagnosed with PTSD, which may last for years. The record establishes that Richardson has gone through bouts of serious depression and has had suicidal ideations,” McCalla wrote.

Both of Richardson’s treatment providers testified of his ongoing, acute symptoms —which have required substantial time and money to treat, McCalla noted.

“These include an inability to sleep, nightmares, paranoia, and general anxiety. It was also evident from Richardson’s in-court testimony that he still suffers from the April 1, 2015 shooting… Richardson struggled to hold back tears and demonstrated genuine physical manifestations of his anxiety,” McCalla wrote in his ruling.

Richardson declined to comment for this story.

A vindication of rights

Richardson’s lawyer, Robert Spence, a former attorney for the city of Memphis, said the judgement means his client will have not only the resources, but also the acknowledgement, needed to support his healing.

“It’s a vindication of his rights,” said Spence, who describes Richardson as introverted and shy. “Notwithstanding those natural inclinations, he was able to muster the strength to bring a suit against the federal government to rectify a wrong.”

“He was left on the curb and without any acknowledgment that he had been shot at or that his passenger side window had exploded from the bullet,” Spence said. “As if what had occurred to him did not matter.”

“That he was that significant of a human being that they’d leave him in the middle of the street and drive off, I think that helped cause the harm he’s dealt with for the last couple of years.”

The government opted not to compensate Richardson before he filed his suit, in an administrative process that settles claims without litigation. But because Richardson pressed on to federal court, the government was forced to admit wrongdoing, which Spence says he sees as progress in itself.

“Because we hide the truth, we seek to bury the truth, to not expose the truth, we never learn from the lessons,” he said of misuse of force incidents. “So we just end up repeating them.”

‘The Marshals made a mistake’

Marshal Carney was not present at the trial, in which Brackstone, his attorney, contended that the shooting was an accident.

“The Marshals made a mistake. I’m not here to do justice to it because it can’t be justified. But it was an accident,” Brackstone said. “The United States doesn’t seek to excuse what it did.”

During the trial, Richardson challenged the nature of the shooting as accidental.

According to the procedures of the Department of Justice, the federal agency under which the U.S. Marshals Service falls, “any intentional or unintentional discharge of a firearm resulting in damage to private property” should be reported for review within the U.S. Marshals Service and, potentially, by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General’s Office.

The U.S. Marshals Service and the inspector general’s office did not immediately respond to requests Friday about whether any discipline resulted from a review of the shooting, or regarding Carney’s current status in the U.S. Marshals Service.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for Western Tennessee, for whom Brackstone works, has previously said the office has no comment on the case.

Follow Sarah Macaraeg on Twitter: @seramak

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis man who was shot by a US marshal awarded $81,456 in damages


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