Federal court: Martinsburg police may have violated civil rights of Black man killed in 2013

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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — While the nation and world mourn the loss of George Floyd to police brutality, West Virginia mourned the loss of a Martinsburg resident under similar circumstances seven years ago, which is now being brought back for review.

It is all due to a landmark U.S. Appeals Court ruling.

Wayne Jones, a Black man, was killed when Martinsburg police shot and stabbed him in 2013. Police confronted him for not walking on a downtown sidewalk, a violation of city ordinances. The encounter led to a civil suit against the city of Martinsburg. Just this week, a federal court said the case may proceed.

“At the time Mr. Jones was shot he was laying face down on the ground. He was not moving,” said Martinsburg lawyer Paul G. Taylor who is representing the Jones family. “There’s no knife visible. It appears he’s unconscious or semi- conscious. The police officers backed up, formed a semi-circle around him and shot him 22 times including 12 times in the back or buttocks.”

Jones’ family is asking for $200 million in their wrongful death suit. A Berkeley County grand jury refused to indict the police officers, but a federal appeals court says there are grounds for civil rights violations to be heard by a Berkeley County jury. The city claims the police are protected by “qualified immunity” since they were acting in an official capacity. But the court ruling this week says those officers “crossed a bright line.”

Eve Birch is a longtime Martinsburg resident and remembers the violence that night.
“He was walking across the street,” Birch recalls. “There was nobody else there. So it wasn’t like he was a threat to anything.”

With tensions heightened across the country — and abroad, for that matter over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer — this latest court ruling is likely to elevate Wayne Jones’ killing to an audience far beyond Martinsburg.

Aside from the federal litigation the case is pending before the West Virginia Supreme Court as well.

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