Gregory Hill Jr. was drunk after spending the most of his day off from his job at Coca Cola listening to music in the “man cave” he had built in the garage of his Fort Pierce, Fla., home when two sheriff’s deputies showed up on Jan. 14, 2014.
Parents picking their children up at the elementary school across the street from Hill’s home had called in a noise complaint, concerned that their kids were overhearing the vulgar music the 30-year-old Hill had been playing.
By all accounts, Deputies Christopher Newsman and Edward Lopez first knocked on the door of the home, before knocking on the garage door itself. According to his family’s lawyers, Hill began to open the garage door, saw it was the police, and began to close it again when the deputies opened fire.
“They saw a black male holding a handgun at his right side,” St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said in a statement the day after the incident. “Deputies ordered the male to drop the gun. Instead of complying … the male raised the gun toward the deputies as he simultaneously pulled the garage door closed.”
Deputy Lopez told investigators that he shouted “gun!” Deputy Newman told investigators that he too saw Hill “holding a handgun in his right hand.” Newman said in police documents that he then opened fire after Hill pointed the weapon at Lopez.
Newman fired four shots through the closing garage door — striking Hill in the head, abdomen and groin. Witnesses told police investigators that the entire interaction was over in a matter of seconds.
[READ MORE: The Washington Post’s police shooting project]
In the two years since the shooting, police have maintained that the deputies saw Hill holding a firearm in his right hand as the door began to open and that he raised the weapon at them. A local grand jury declined to bring charges against Newman.
But in a wrongful death lawsuit announced Wednesday, attorneys for Hill’s fiancée and children insist the slain man never raised a weapon at the officers. Instead, they say, Hill was shot in haste by a deputy who may have been spooked by the sound of the garage door closing.
Police investigatory documents show that Hill did have a gun — it was found unloaded and inside of his back right pocket after he was killed.
“The guy was shot and killed within the confines of his own home over what started out as a loud music complaint and was found with a gun in his back pocket,” said John Phillips, who is representing Hill’s family. He argues that it would have been impossible for Hill to have had the gun in his hand when officers began firing and then for it to end up in his pocket.
“I’ve never heard of someone with a bullet through their head being able to put a gun back in their pocket,” Phillips said. “It’s not practical or possible.”
Police photos from the shooting scene show a small portion of the dark-colored Kel-Tec 9mm sticking out the top of the right rear pocket of Hill’s jean shorts, which he had been wearing down around his thighs. (Warning: graphic photo).
“Looking at where it is in his pocket, I don’t see how they could have seen it,” Phillips said. “If it’s in your pocket, and it’s not in your hand, it’s not a threat.”
Because the garage door had closed, the deputies did not know whether Hill had been wounded or not. They called for backup. Responding officers treated the incident as a barricade situation and believed incorrectly that one of Hill’s young daughters was in the home as well.
By the time Hill’s family had arrived on the scene, a perimeter had been set up around the home by a tactical team.
“We also received information form a man claiming to be the subject’s uncle,” the sheriff said in his statement. “This man told investigators he had spoken with the subject on the telephone during the event and that he was alive and uninjured but afraid to come out.”
Police tactical teams deployed tear gas into the home and eventually used a robot to enter the garage, where they found Hill’s body lying in a pool of blood.
After almost four hours, that standoff between the police and Hill’s dead body was over.
Terrica Monique Davis, who lived with Hill in the home, remembers the man whom she had been slated to marry two months after his death as a hard-working family man who loved to fish and hang out in his “man cave” garage.
“You’re not going to be able to find anyone who would say anything bad about him,” Davis said. “He loved his kids, and he loved that garage. So for him to die in there…it’s just too much.”
Among the most upsetting aspects, Davis said, is that her young daughter Destiny, who at the time attended the school across the street, was outside waiting to be picked up and claims to have seen her father’s shooting.
“My daughter saw everything, from when they pulled up to the house, to the garage door being pulled up, to the shooting.” Davis said. “She heard the first boom, and she started crying.”
A spokesman for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the lawsuit, and it is unclear if Newman has an attorney.
The lawsuit is seeking $15,000 in damages, which Davis and Phillips say will be a step toward justice.
“I just want to see justice for what they did,” Davis said on Tuesday. “Because they know they were wrong.”