The widow of a Dumfries man who was shot several times by Prince William County police officers after they surprised him in his own bed has filed a $25 million wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit against the county, alleging that poorly trained officers mishandled the situation.
Police were called to the home of Brian and Joan Cox in the early hours of Dec. 12, 1997, by a neighbor who had heard breaking glass and thought it might have been caused by a burglar. In fact, Brian Cox had broken into his own town house after he and his wife returned home from a Christmas party and had a fight outside and she drove off with his keys, according to the 18-page complaint filed Dec. 10 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
According to police statements at the time, police found Cox motionless in bed and pulled on his foot. He then sat up and grabbed a rifle from under the covers, police said. The police opened fire. Cox, 25, died after suffering "numerous bullet wounds, including at least two to his back," the lawsuit said.
"The officers who shot him to death did not follow accepted police practices . . . even though there were no signs that he was anyone other than a lawful resident" of the home, said Patrick Regan, Joan Cox's attorney. Joan Cox, now 25, is suing on her own behalf and for her son, Brian Justin-Tyler Cox, 3.
Deputy County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac said county officials have yet to receive a copy of the suit. "We reviewed the incident at the time, and we think there was no fault on the part of the police," he said. "Any lawsuit based on this incident would be without merit."
An internal police investigation found the shooting was justified, and the U.S. Department of Justice closed an FBI civil rights investigation without filing charges, said FBI spokesman Greg Horner. At the time, Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert declined to open a separate investigation into the incident.
Police said at the time that Brian Cox had struck his wife violently during their fight outside the town house.
The lawsuit seeks $15 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages. The filing alleges that Prince William "provided grossly inadequate training and supervision regarding . . . use of excessive force, entering and searching a residence . . . and waking up or alerting someone who is resting or sleeping without creating a dangerous situation."
The suit also names as defendants the county police, Police Chief Charlie T. Deane and Officers Mark Hamill and James Ford, who were on the scene.