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Lawsuit filed in '11 police shooting

By Sarah Thomas sthomas@news-journal.com
Oct. 5, 2013 at 11 p.m.


GLADEWATER - The sister of a man <a href="http://www.news-journal.com/news/gladewater-police-confirm-death-in-furniture-store-shooting/article_be5090e2-bd3d-11e0-aff4-001cc4c002e0.html" target="_blank">fatally shot by Gladewater police</a> has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming his death was unjustified and that city's police department has a pattern of unlawfully killing black men.

Officer David Burrows shot and killed 55-year-old Willie B. Green on Aug. 2, 2011, at the B&C Furniture Store.

Green's sister, Peggy Hill, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Marshall alleging her brother was not a threat to Burrows, the other officers on scene or anyone else when he was fatally shot.

Officers tried to subdue Green with a stun gun when they answered a disturbance call about an altercation between Green and a man in the alley behind the store in the 200 block of Main Street, according to the lawsuit.

"As Willie Green stood motionless and unable to move, defendant Burrows began repeatedly shooting Willie Green. Defendant Burrows shot Willie Green at least three to four times, ultimately killing him," the lawsuit states.

Gladewater Police Chief Farrell Alexander said at the time that officers tried to use a stun gun to subdue Green, but it had no effect.

"Upon officers' arrival, they entered the store and located one man with a knife," Alexander said on the day of the shooting. "Officers advised the man several times to drop the knife, and he refused to comply with the officers' commands."

The lawsuit claims Burrows and the other officers - Charles Head and Terry Johnson - were not in imminent danger because Green did not have a gun and was about 20 feet away from Burrows when he was shot.

The lawsuit argues no one was in imminent danger when Burrows fired his gun.

"Defendant Burrows' actions were unnecessary, unreasonable and a clear violation of Willie Green's constitutional rights," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by Dallas attorney Joe Nathan Wright.

His claim against the city is that the Gladewater Police Department has a history of unlawfully killing black men.

The plaintiff named the city of Gladewater as a defendant in the lawsuit because the city acts with "deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of its black residents," according to the lawsuit.

In June 2005, off-duty Gladewater officer Bryan Naismith fatally shot 25-year-old Jonathan Jamile King, a suspect in a hit-and-run.

An Upshur County grand jury declined to bring criminal charges against Naismith, who later left the department. However, King's family settled a lawsuit against the city of Gladewater, its police force and the Texas Municipal League for more than $300,000.

The Hill lawsuit alleges the city promotes racism and also lays out what Wright and Hill believe to be institutional failures that led to Green's death, including hiring some officers who were unfit to serve, inadequate supervision and training, failure to discipline or terminate Burrows for his actions, failure to inform officers of city policies regarding deadly force and failure to terminate or train officers known to have a discriminatory animosity toward interracial couples.

Gladewater Police Department's 2012 racial profiling report shows the department made 2,406 traffic stops. Of those, 371 were black, 1,885 were white and 127 were Hispanic. The report also shows the officer knew the ethnicity of the driver before the traffic stop in three of the cases.

The report is compiled with data that the Gladewater Police Department reported to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education.

The department maintains a policy on racial profiling that states officers are prohibited from engaging in racial profiling and has a "process by which an individual may file a complaint with the (department) if the individual believes that a peace officer employed by the (department) has engaged in racial profiling with respect to the individual," according to the commission.

City Manager Sean Pate was not available for comment on the lawsuit, and efforts to obtain comment from attorneys for both parties were not successful.

The case is pending in U.S. District Court in Marshall.

Court-ordered mediation earlier this year ended in an impasse, according to federal documents.

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