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Court rejects lawsuit stemming from 2006 I-64 shooting

A federal judge last week threw out a lawsuit naming several local Southern Indiana towns, cities and police departments and officers.
The suit was filed on behalf of Trent Marion, a Louisville man who lost his right eye and suffered damage to his left wrist in a Jan. 20, 2006, incident in which he was shot by police after shoplifting from a Louisville supermarket. He sought $21.5 million in damages from Capt. Jim Sadler of the Corydon Police Dept.; Todd Stinson, a former marshal with the Corydon Police Dept., now with the Georgetown Police Dept.; Lt. Roy Wiseman and Officer Kevin Taylor, both of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept.; and Bruce LaHue, who was Harrison County jail commander at the time of the shooting. Also named were the City of Louisville, the Town of Corydon, the City of New Albany and unnamed officers from the Indiana State Police.
‘I’m very relieved. This ended quicker than I thought it would,’ Sadler said.
Attorney Matthew Hinkle, who represented the Town of Corydon officers, said the judge gave a ‘well-thought-out and detailed’ account as to why the suit should be rejected, noting the force used was reasonable under the circumstances.
Marion, who was 37 at the time of the incident, was shot in the median of Interstate 64 about two miles west of the Corydon exit after leading police on a high-speed chase from Louisville. The chase began after Marion was seen stealing meat from a Kroger store. He eventually fled in his Ford Explorer, leaving his baby behind at the store.
In August of that year in Jefferson County, Ky., Marion pleaded guilty to robbing the Kroger store and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, which also included time for an unrelated robbery at a different Kroger location in late 2005.
Marion contended that after his vehicle was in the median, he stopped the Explorer and had both of his hands up when he was shot.
Police and witnesses at the scene say that Marion was still trying to drive the vehicle, even though three of his four tires were blown, and police said they believed he was trying to run over them. That’s when they opened fire, they said.
Chief U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton said the undisputed facts show it was reasonable for the officers to fire their weapons as Marion was still revving the engine, moving the Explorer and trying to gain traction to continue his flight, especially when officers stood in or near the paths of possible escape with the vehicle.
‘The defense affidavits and unchallenged video evidence from the police vehicles allow this court to reach its conclusion with confidence,’ Hamilton said, noting, ‘The court should not be understood as endorsing a broad rule that police officers are entitled to fire their weapons at a fleeing driver under any and all circumstances.’
Under the circumstances shown by undisputed evidence ‘ which Hinkle said included dashcam video from ‘four or five’ police cars ‘ it was reasonable, as a matter of law, for the officers to fire weapons to stop Marion from running them down and/or continuing his attempted escape into the eastbound lanes of traffic, Hamilton said.
Regarding the suit against the Town of Corydon and marshals Sadler and Stinson, Marion argued that Sadler violated Corydon police rules and regulations that prohibit gunfire at moving vehicles except as an ultimate measure of self-defense or in defense of others.
‘While it is easy to argue that Sadler’s shots at the moving vehicle on the highway were in defense of himself and other officers endangered by Marion’s continued dangerous driving as he tried to flee, the issue is moot for two reasons,’ Hamilton said. A U.S. Code (42 U.S.C. ‘ 1983) does not provide a right of action for violations of department policies, the judge noted.
‘The plaintiff must prove a violation of federal constitutional rights,’ he said. ‘Also, as indicated previously, Marion did not submit to these earlier efforts to stop and seize him, so they did not amount to seizures under the Fourth Amendment.’
Hamilton later stated that while Marion was trying to drive his vehicle across the median ‘ and while shifting from forward to reverse to forward again ‘ that Marion did not seem to care that officers were in his path.
‘There is no evidence that he ceased his attempt to flee until he was struck by gunfire,’ said Hamilton. ‘To the officers nearby, the objective indications were that Marion intended to escape from the median, regardless of whether he had to run over anything or anyone.’
In the suit against the county and Officers Wiseman, Taylor and LaHue, Hamilton said the facts showed that LaHue fired only one shot at the remaining inflated rear tire on Marion’s vehicle after it had entered the median and as Marion continued to attempt to flee. Taylor also fired at the vehicle while in the median. Wiseman had driven his vehicle through the median and near the eastbound lanes to try to cut off Marion’s possible escape route. When he left his vehicle, Wiseman approached Marion’s Explorer from the front. In fear for his own safety, Wiseman fired at the vehicle’s radiator eight or nine times in an effort to disable it, as it began to lurch forward in the median with the engine revving.
‘As with the Corydon officers, no Harrison County officer violated Marion’s constitutional rights by firing their weapons,’ Hamilton said. ‘The undisputed facts show that Marion gave no signs that he was going to surrender and that he posed an immediate threat to the officers and general public in the eastbound lanes of the interstate highway.’
Hamilton granted summary judgment in favor of the officers from Corydon, Harrison County, New Albany and those town, city and county governments.
Marion and his lead attorney, Ronald Sheffer, have until April 17 to file an appeal and show why he shouldn’t also grant summary judgment in favor of the City of Louisville and its police officers.
In another matter, the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, which enforces federal criminal civil rights laws, ruled that it could not establish a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes in regards to Sadler’s and Stinson’s use of force against Marion.
‘We have closed our investigation,’ said Mark J. Keppelhoff, section chief.