|Case of the Month|
Willie L. Jones, Personal Representative of the Estate of Chad Jones, Petitioner, v. Leon Lott, Linn Pitts, Gilbert Gallegos and Clark Frady, individually and in their official capacities with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Respondents.
Chad Jones was shot and killed by a law enforcement officer when Mr. Jones attempted to escape in a police cruiser. Mr. Jones’ father brought this wrongful death and survival action against respondents on behalf of his deceased son’s estate based on allegations of negligence and civil conspiracy. The trial judge granted summary judgment for each of the respondents in the individual capacities, but allowed the case to proceed against Sheriff Lott in his official capacity as to the gross negligence claim. The trial judge eventually granted a directed verdict in favor of Sheriff Lott in his official capacity on the grounds that the deputies did not owe a duty to Mr. Jones to secure him in the back of the police cruiser in a manner that made it impossible to escape; any negligence on the deputies’ part in securing Mr. Jones in the cruiser was outweighed as a matter of law under the comparative negligence standard by Mr. Jones’ actions in his escape attempt; the use of deadly force by the deputies in that situation was objectively reasonable as a matter of law; and the sheriff’s department was entitled to immunity under S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-60(6).1
Mr. Jones’ father filed an appeal in the South Carolina Court of Appeals. There he argued the officers were grossly negligent in the manner in which they held Mr. Jones, specifically in their failure to comply with the provisions of the sheriff’s department policy manual regarding transportation of prisoners and use of deadly force, and the issue should have been submitted to the jury. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision because Mr. Jones’ father failed to appeal the trial court’s finding that Sheriff Lott was entitled to immunity. The Court of Appeals also found Sheriff Lott was entitled to immunity under S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-60(21),2 a statutory provision different from that relied upon by the trial court. As a result of these findings, the Court of Appeals declined to address the remaining arguments raised by Mr. Jones’ father.
Mr. Jones’ father asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal’s decision. The Supreme Court granted that request and the matter is scheduled for oral argument on Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 10:30 a.m. Mr. Jones’ father argues he did contest the finding of immunity under section 15-78-60(6) and argues further that immunity under section 15-78-60(21) is not proper. He also argues the trial court erred in finding the use of deadly force by the officers was objectively reasonable, as a matter of law, and that the officers were not negligent, as a matter of law; in finding the officers owed no duty to Mr. Jones with respect to the manner in which they confined and secured him upon his being taken into custody; and in finding, as a matter of law, that Mr. Jones’ attempt to escape outweighed any negligence on the part of the officers in failing to secure Mr. Jones.
This section states a governmental entity is not liable for a loss resulting from the decision to or implementation of release, discharge, parole, or furlough of any persons in the custody of any governmental entity, including but not limited to a prisoner, inmate, juvenile, patient, or client or the escape of these persons.
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