Wrongful Death Suit Filed Against Raleigh County Sheriff and Deputies

From the Register-Herald this morning:

A wrongful death lawsuit filed late Monday afternoon claims members of the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Department acted negligently when they shot and killed a Cabell Heights man who was firing a high-powered weapon in the early morning hours of July 4, 2006.

Filed by Charleston attorneys Michael A. Olivio and Travis A. Griffith on behalf of Mary Webb, the widow of Robert Webb, the suit lists defendants as the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Department, the Raleigh County Commission, Sheriff Danny Moore, then-Chief Deputy Steve Tanner, Deputy Greg S. Kade and Deputy John E. Hajash.

According to Register-Herald files and the complaint, Kade and Hajash were responding to a complaint that Robert A. Webb, 44, was playing loud music and shooting an AK-47 assault rifle outside his Cabell Heights home.

According to the lawsuit, Webb was discharging his firearm in celebration of his birthday and the Fourth of July holiday, but more than 30 minutes had elapsed between the firing of the weapon and the arrival of Kade and Hajash at the Webb residence.

The suit also claims “numerous residents within the neighborhood” were also firing weapons in celebration of the holiday and that Webb never fired his gun to threaten or endanger anyone.

The complaint claims Kade and Hajash parked away from the residence, out of sight, and approached on foot “while using cover to conceal their presence.” It also claims Kade took an assault shotgun from their patrol vehicle instead of his service standard handgun in spite of the fact the call was considered a “non-emergency nuisance call.”

When the deputies arrived on the scene at approximately 1 a.m., Webb was not shooting; still Kade and Hajash remained concealed by a row of trees until they witnessed Webb turn away from them, “at which time they ran toward Robert Webb in order to close the distance between them,” according to the complaint.

“Deputies Kade and Hajash proceeded up the street toward Mr. Webb and shot Mr. Webb while he was standing in the driveway of his home,” the complaint reads. “Deputies Kade and Hajash failed to identify themselves as law enforcement officers prior to firing their fatal shots at Mr. Webb.”

Webb was hit in the head and knocked to the ground by an initial shot from a shotgun, according to the complaint. While he was on the ground, one of the deputies shot him again with a handgun.

The complaint also claims emergency medical personnel were denied immediate access to Webb by members of the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Department, who finished taking photographs before they allowed medical personnel to touch Webb.

Obviously there are two sides to every story, but if the allegations that are included in the complaint are true, then there were some real problems with the conduct of the law enforcement officers in this situation. Having formerly investigated pattern or practice police misconduct for the Department of Justice, the way these officers approached the scene jumps out at me as either gross negligence or reckless disregard for human life and proper police practices. First of all, shooting firearms into the air on the 4th of July is not an offense punishable by death. They should have approached in their cruisers with their emergency lights on. There was no allegation (apparently) that the victim was firing his weapon towards anyone else. It was obviously a 4th of July celebration. Secondly, the man was in his driveway, it was dark, and they sneaked up on him with a shotgun pointed at his face. It would have been understandable if the victim had shot at the officers. However, he did not – there apparently was no evidence that he attempted to shoot at them. It is uncontested that the victim never fired a shot. Having your head blown-off by a short-barrel shotgun is a pretty harsh way to die, and understandably, the family is looking to make the county pay.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

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