“I promised my mother before she died that we would continue to fight for justice,” said Bruce Jones, Wayne Jones’s 57-year-old brother and one of the beneficiaries of the settlement.
“The settlement makes me feel a little bit better, but until I can have a chance to have these cops prosecuted, I am still going to be pushing for justice,” he said.
In a statement, the Martinsburg Police Department stressed that the settlement is not an admission of guilt in the killing.
“The City’s insurance carrier, in consultation with the City and its officers, agreed to the settlement simply to avoid the ongoing costs of litigation and the difficulties a trial would present for Mr. Jones’ family, the Officers, and the Officers’ families,” the statement said.
The statement also detailed three independent investigations of the incident that found insufficient evidence to establish that police officers had violated Jones’s rights, referring to reviews by the West Virginia State Police, the U.S. Justice Department and the department’s Civil Rights Division in 2013.
“With this settlement, the City and the MPD hope everyone involved will be able to put this incident behind them and allow the community to heal,” the city said in the statement.
The settlement ends a seven-year legal battle after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last month that officers who shot and killed Jones were not immune to the family’s lawsuit. The court’s ruling came in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“Although we recognize that our police officers are often asked to make split second decisions, we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives,” wrote Judge Henry F. Floyd, who referred to the police killings of Floyd in May and Michael Brown in 2014 in his ruling. He continued, “This has to stop.”
Though the protracted civil case has been settled, Jones’s family has another petition on appeal in state court that would impanel a grand jury to investigate the shooting, according to Brown, the family’s attorney.
“The fact that I could tell my client that we still have a shot at criminal prosecution made the figure very acceptable,” Brown said of the settlement. “My clients want the police who work there to lose their pension, lose their jobs and go to jail for murdering their brother.”
The fatal shooting occurred in 2013 when Jones, then 50 and homeless, was stopped by police for walking in the street instead of on the sidewalk. The encounter escalated when Jones did not comply with an officer’s order to put his hands on the police car.
A chase ensued and Jones was shocked with a Taser, kicked and placed in a chokehold before one officer felt a “sharp poke at [his] side” and shouted that Jones had a knife, according to court records. A semicircle of five officers closed in around Jones and, court records show, collectively fired 22 bullets at him as he lay motionless on the ground.
Jones’s family sued the city and the police officers alleging excessive use of force, but a district court judge initially found that the officers were protected from legal action by qualified immunity. The June ruling reversed that decision.
Bruce Jones, who said most of the money from the settlement will go toward attorney fees that have piled up over seven years of litigation, is doing his best to honor his brother, who would have turned 58 on July 28.
“I think about him not being here anymore and not having the chance to see his nephews and nieces and family,” he said. “To say we won would be to have these officers indicted for the crimes that they committed.”
Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report