Jury finds officers not liable in Farrow civil trial
JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - A federal jury decided Friday that two West Memphis police officers cannot be held liable for the death of a 12-year-old boy, whose family filed a $250 million lawsuit after he was fatally shot by police.
Officers Erik Sammis and Jimmy Evans shed tears as the verdicts were read in U.S. District Court in Jonesboro. Jurors in the civil trial, which began Monday, ruled in favor of the officers on all 10 claims made by the family after three hours of deliberations.
"I'm glad I got cleared," Evans told the Jonesboro Sun. "In the beginning, we told the truth and we relied on the truth."
Sammis said he believed DeAunta Farrow was holding a gun when he and Evans, who were conducting nighttime surveillance, came upon the boy and his then-14-year-old cousin, Unseld Nance Jr., in a dimly lit parking lot in June 2007. Investigators later said DeAunta was holding a toy gun.
A special prosecutor concluded there wasn't enough evidence to charge the officers with a crime.
But DeAunta's family said the boy was not armed and filed the lawsuit against the officers, alleging they used excessive force and violated the children's civil rights. The officers tried to have the lawsuit thrown out, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal last October.
The family's attorney, Bennie O'Neil, said no decision has been made whether to appeal Friday's verdict.
"I'm a little surprised," O'Neil said. "I thought their conduct on June 22 (2007) was unreasonable."
Chris Michaels, an attorney for the two officers, said the verdict means Sammis and Evans "can get on with their lives." Michaels said the officers would be "absolutely ready" to defend themselves again should an appeal be filed.
West Memphis Mayor William Johnson said he attended the trial to support the two officers. He said he hopes the verdict would help the city move past an issue that has divided its residents.
"I feel that justice was served," Johnson said. "I'm pleased it's over. It's been a cloud over our head for four years."
Johnson said he felt sympathy for DeAunta's family.
"It's terrible that they lost a son, and I continue to pray for them also," he said.
In April 2009, Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law a bill that banned toy guns that look like real guns. The measure was originally named after DeAunta, but the bill's sponsor agreed to remove the boy's name after complaints from the family.
Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)