Melvin Williams Wrongful Death Case Set To Go Before Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals

November 19, 2012
By Betts & Associates

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in early December over the wrongful death civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of Melvin Williams, a man who was fatally shot by an East Dublin police officer on May 14, 2010.

The incident happened after Williams was stopped and confronted by East Dublin police officer, Jeffrey Deal, after he allegedly ran a stop sign. There is no visual evidence of this moving violation though despite the presence of a police video that has been released to the public. Moreover, it was revealed after the shooting that Officer Deal had not attended the state's mandatory training on use of deadly force and therefore had lost his power to arrest when the incident occurred.

What the video does show is Officer Deal driving his police car to an East Dublin residence and aggressively approaching Williams who was standing next to his parked vehicle. A fight ensued between Williams and Deal, with Williams asking the officer repeatedly, "What's wrong with you?!" As the fight escalated, Deal drew his side arm and shot and killed Williams who was unarmed.

Upon further investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), it was revealed that over half of East Dublin's entire police department, including East Dublin Police Chief William Luecke, also lacked the power to make arrests throughout 2010 because they too had not undergone the training required by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council to keep their certification active.

Even though the East Dublin police department does not dispute that Deal has lost his power of arrest Laurens County Magistrate Judge, Donald Gillis, decided he would not approve a warrant for Deal's arrest in September of 2011, claiming that he arrested Williams under a citizens' arrest. The Laurens County District Attorney has also refused to take the case to a grand jury hearing. Jeffrey Deal remains employed on the East Dublin police force.

The Williams' family has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Officer Deal, East Dublin police supervisory officers, and the city of East Dublin. That case, however, has also run into hurdles as the East Dublin police department has not allowed their officers to provide testimony in any deposition, citing "qualified immunity" as the reason. Qualified immunity is used to protect government officials from liability for the violation of an individual's federal constitutional rights. It can be cited by state or federal employees performing discretionary functions where their actions, even if later found to be unlawful, did not violate clearly established law.

Williams' family attorney, Mario Williams (no relation) challenged the police department's right to claim qualified immunity by bringing the matter before a United District Court Judge in Augusta, GA. The judge ruled that the department could not cite qualified immunity so the East Dublin defense attorneys have appealed that decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Eleventh Circuit will ultimately decide how this case will move forward.

Given the lack of a thorough criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution, many questions remain unanswered in this case. Therefore any evidence gathered during these civil proceedings will go a long way in determining whether the federal government will pursue criminal prosecution against Officer Deal under the Civil Rights Act.