Appeals Court Reverses Wrongful Death Award in Malik Jones Case
By EDMUND H.
The Hartford Courant
6:14 PM EDT, August 1, 2012
A federal appeals court on Wednesday reversed a $900,000 wrongful death verdict awarded to the mother of Malik Jones, a New Haven man shot to death by an East Haven police officer following a chase in 1997.
The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Emma Jones failed in her effort to show that the fatal shooting of her son, an African American, was the result of "deliberate indifference" by East Haven to abuse by its police officers of the rights of blacks and other people of color.
The appellate decision reverses a finding by a jury at U.S. District Court in Hartford as well as a ruling by Connecticut's chief federal judge, Alvin W. Thompson, who presided over trial of the suit.
Emma Jones said she will discuss the appeals decision at a yet-to-be-scheduled press conference. Hugh Keefe, East Haven's lawyer, said the decision probably will bring an end to prolonged and racially divisive litigation.
The decision is a legal victory for East Haven. But the court's language is unlikely to give comfort to a municipal government trying to dispel a perception that its town has been hostile to members of racial minorities.
Earlier this year, the town and its police force were battered by allegations of racial bias following a years-long civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The government accused the police department of bias, illegal searches and the use of excessive force.
Following the investigation, the federal government sued the town and charged four police officers with conspiracy, false arrest, excessive force and obstruction of justice in connection with the mistreatment of Hispanics.
In a footnote to its decision, the appeals court said Wednesday that its reversal in the Malik Jones suit should not be construed as an expression of its views of East Haven or its police department. Rather, the court said the decision reflects only its view that Emma Jones' suit failed to present sufficient evidence to establish liability by the town of East Haven for the shooting by one of its police officers.
Elsewhere in the decision, the court wrote that evidence associated with the suit, when construed most favorably to Emma Jones, "unquestionably showed instances of reprehensible and at times illegal and unconstitutional conduct by individual officers of the East Haven Police Department."
But to establish municipal liability, the court said that Emma Jones was required — but failed — to show that police misconduct was so widespread in East Haven that the town was aware of it, condoned it, or at least tolerated it.
The death of Malik Jones set up years of at times contentious discussion of race and led to the enactment in Connecticut of a law prohibiting racial profiling. Jones was shot by Officer Robert Flodquist shortly after 6 p.m. on April 14, 1997, following a police pursuit that began in East Haven and ended in New Haven.
Flodquist has asserted consistently that he fired four shots at Jones to defend himself. Emma Jones claimed in her suit that Flodquist fired at her son before the officer was in any physical jeopardy.
The jury that heard the suit found in favor of Flodquist and a second officer who assisted in the pursuit, but held the town of East Haven liable for the death. At the trial, Thompson denied a motion by East Haven to hold it blameless because Emma Jones had failed to meet the evidentiary standard for municipal liability.
The jury initially awarded Emma Jones $2.5 million in damages. That figure was reduced following a second trial to $900,000. The award was never paid, pending appeals.
On appeal, East Haven's lawyers — the New Haven firm Lynch, Traub, Keefe and Errante argued that Emma Jones failed to present convincing evidence at trial to demonstrate that a policy of deliberate racial indifference was responsible for the death.
"After 15 years of protests, arguments, trials and appeals, it is time to put this case to bed," Keefe said. "I'm delighted it is over and that justice prevailed."
Emma Jones' lawyer, David Rosen of New Haven, was not available to discuss the decision. Should Emma Jones attempt to appeal again, it would be to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Copyright © 2012, The Hartford Courant