Birmingham, Ala., Hit with $4.5M Verdict Over Police Shooting

By Jonathan Capriel | February 2, 2024, 9:40 PM EST ·

An Alabama federal jury hit the city of Birmingham with a $4.5 million verdict over a fatal police shooting, finding that a city officer violated the constitutional rights of two people when he fired upon them while they were immobilized in a vehicle at the end of a car chase.

After roughly six hours of deliberation spread over two days, the jury found that police officer Aric Mitchell "without reasonable justification" shot Samantha Hardin in the leg and Jamarcus Moore in the chest, killing him, according to the verdict and counsel for Hardin, who spoke to Law360 on Friday.

The jury awarded $2.85 million in punitive damages to Moore's estate and $1.6 million in compensatory punitive damages to Hardin, the Thursday verdict said.

Ultimately, the jury could not trust Mitchell's version of events, which departed significantly from what the footage on his and other officers' body cameras showed, said Johnathan F. Austin, a public interest attorney who represented the plaintiffs.

"Credibility was at issue from the beginning of the trial," Austin said. "His statements were just totally inconsistent with the bodycam footage. There were also four other police officers who testified. Their statements lined up with Officer Mitchell's but not with the footage. We all know, the eye in the sky does not lie."

A spokesperson for the city, Rick Journey, told Law360 that the city intended to appeal the verdict and declined to comment further.

The lawsuit was brought by Hardin and the executor of Moore's estate, Moneka Chante Moore, in 2021. The suit claimed Mitchell violated their Fourth Amendment right and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 by causing the wrongful death of Moore, the shooting of Hardin and intentionally ramming into their vehicle. The claims related to hitting their car were dismissed before trial.

The city and Mitchell argued that deadly force was necessary after the crash because he believed Moore posed a threat of serious physical harm to himself and the community.

The jury's verdict found that Mitchell indeed "perceived" Moore as an "imminent threat" to other officers when he shot him. But the verdict also said that the force Mitchell used was "excessive or unreasonable."

According to the court record, Mitchell claims he caught the "strong odor of marijuana" when he was stopped behind Moore's Toyota Avalon at a traffic light.

When he turned on his police lights, Moore sped off, court records said. The lawsuit claims that Moore did this because he had a warrant for his arrest but didn't want to go to jail because his partner was expected to give birth roughly two months later.

During the 20-minute chase, Mitchell claims that he saw a "muzzle flash" and heard shots coming from Moore's car window, according to his deposition. But Hardin said that at no point during the chase did she or Moore use a gun, the lawsuit said. The plaintiffs' attorney told Law360 that there was a gun in the vehicle, but an autopsy of Moore showed he had no gunpowder residue on his hands. Austin also noted that at least five Birmingham police cars and vehicles from another agency chased Moore.

When Moore slowed down in an attempt to make a right turn, Mitchell intentionally crashed into them as a tactical maneuver, the suit claims. The city claims it was an accidental collision.

Hardin said that both she and Moore were disoriented and motionless immediately after the crash. Even though they posed no "imminent threat of harm," Mitchell ran up to the driver's side and fired into the Toyota without verbal warning, fatally striking Moore in the chest and hitting her leg.

Mitchell said he believed Moore was reaching for a gun.

Hardin and Moneka Chante Moore are represented by Richard Allan Rice of the Rice Law Firm and Johnathan Fitzgerald Austin of Austin Law PC.

The city and Mitchell are represented by Fredric Fullerton II and Samantha A. Chandler of the city's legal department.

The case is Hardin et al. v. City of Birmingham, case number 2:21-cv-01002, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

--Editing by Andrew Cohen.

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