By Jeffrey B. Roth
(Reuters) - Police in a West Virginia city altered video evidence in the death of a mentally ill black man who was shot and killed last year during a confrontation with officers, a lawyer for the victim's family said on Thursday.
Sherman L. Lambert Sr., an attorney representing the estate of Wayne A. Jones, filed a legal motion on Wednesday in a $200 million lawsuit against five Martinsburg police officers. The lawsuit accuses the officers of using excessive force in the March 2013 shooting.
The officers were cleared of wrongdoing in a report from West Virginia State Police investigators in April. Last October, a grand jury found their actions to be justified.
“We question the authenticity of the DVD police provided,” Lambert said. “One of the main issues in the case was whether police used excessive force.”
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of family members in June 2013, will go to trial on Oct. 28 in the U.S. District Court of Northern Virginia.
Across the country, video evidence is playing an increasingly important role in such cases.
Two deaths this year - the shooting on Aug. 9 of a black teenager by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the July 17 death of a New York man after police used a choke hold on him - gained national notoriety in part because they were recorded on mobile phones.
Jones, a 50-year-old who took schizophrenia medication, was shot by officers 23 times, according to the autopsy report.
The motion filed by Lambert claims there were four videos of the shooting, taken from dashboard cameras of police cruisers on the scene, and none shows what occurred before Jones was shot. Only the shooting itself appears on the recording, said Lambert.
According to police, the officers struck Jones twice with stun guns after he became angry and refused to follow orders. The shocks had “little” effect on Jones, who pulled a knife and stabbed one of the officers, inflicting a minor wound.
Jones was ordered to drop the knife while he still was on the ground. When he refused and tried to get up, the officers fired multiple rounds at him “to neutralize the threat,” police said.
But there is no video evidence of the stabbing and other events leading up to the shooting. Lambert said it defied logic that police would start recording at the end of the incident, though the motion filed on Wednesday provided no direct evidence of altering.
Boyd L. Warner, who represents the five officers, filed a motion earlier this month to have the case dismissed. It argued that the lawsuit raised no fresh issues that the state investigation and the grand jury had failed to resolve.
Warner was unavailable on Thursday for further comment.
(Reporting by Jeffrey B. Roth in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Editing by Grant McCool)