A Florida family is calling for justice after a federal jury cleared a sheriff’s deputy of using excessive force in the 2014 shooting of Gregory Hill Jr. and awarded the family $4 in damages for funeral expenses and pain and suffering.
Hill, an African-American father of three, was fatally shot in 2014 after a white sheriff’s deputy responded to a noise complaint, CNN reported. A mother picking up her child at a school across the street from Hill’s home heard Hill playing music in his garage and called in the complaint.
When St. Lucie County Deputies Christopher Newman and Edward Lopez showed up at Hill’s house, they knocked on his garage door and front door, according to the lawsuit filed by Hill’s mother in 2016.
“After Newman knocked on the doors, the garage door opened revealing Hill within the comfort of his own garage and home,” the lawsuit said. “Upon information and belief, Deputy Lopez indicated loudly that Hill had a gun and then the garage door closed. Despite the door being closed, Newman fired his handgun approximately four times and killed Hill.”
Two bullets hit Hill in the abdomen and one hit him in the head. A SWAT team arrived and released chemical agents into the house, and then authorities realized Hill was dead. He was found with an unloaded handgun in his back pocket.
Newman said he fired at Hill because the man had been holding the gun during their interaction, but Hill’s family disputed that claim.
Jurors spent 10 hours deliberating last week and initially said they were unable to reach a verdict, according to the New York Times. But after continued deliberations, they found that Newman had not used excessive force and that St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara had shown some negligence. The verdict form said Mascara was 1% responsible for Hill’s death and that Hill himself was 99% responsible.
The jury awarded $1 for funeral expenses and $1 for each child’s loss. But because the jury found Mascara only 1% responsible, it reduced the award to four cents. And because a toxicology report showed Hill was drunk at the time of the encounter, the Times reported the award would be reduced to nothing.
The family’s attorney, John Phillips, has said he was confused by the verdict, according to CNN. Hill’s family has launched a GoFundMe page to raise money to support his children, and Phillips plans to file a motion for a new trial. He told the network he wondered whether the jurors were trying to send the family a message: “That a black child’s pain is only worth a dollar is exactly the problem with the plight of the African-American right now. This says, black lives don’t matter,” he said.