CLEVELAND (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a $4 million jury award to the family of a man fatally shot by an off-duty Cleveland police officer in 2012.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected numerous arguments made by Cleveland city attorneys about why the 2015 federal jury award shouldn't be paid, including a claim that officer Roger Jones' actions were "objectively reasonable" when he shot and killed 20-year-old Kenneth Smith in downtown Cleveland.
Jones was the lone defendant in the civil rights lawsuit but was defended at trial and on appeal by staff attorneys from Cleveland.
Cleveland spokesman Dan Williams said Friday that the city was reviewing the ruling and had no comment. Jones remains a Cleveland police officer.
According to the ruling, Jones was in a parking lot in the early morning of March 10, 2012, when a fight broke out and someone fired a shot in the air. Three men in a gold car tried to drive from the scene but were blocked by police cruisers at an intersection.
Jones, who was wearing a Cleveland Indians jacket, told investigators he approached the car with his gun drawn, yelled at Smith to put up his hands and kicked out the front passenger window when Smith refused to comply. Jones said he shot Smith because he feared he was reaching for a gun sitting on the console. Jones also said Smith got out of the car after being shot and took several steps before collapsing.
Trial witnesses testified that Jones dragged Smith out of the car and shot him in the head while Smith was lowering himself to the ground to surrender. A medical examiner testified at trial that Smith was immediately incapacitated after being shot and couldn't have taken any steps.
Then-Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty called Jones a hero after Jones was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
The appellate judges said the testimony of eyewitnesses and forensics experts provided a "reasonable basis" for the jury's verdict.
"Suffice it to say ... that a police officer cannot shoot a person simply because the person is near a gun," the ruling said.
The jury initially awarded Smith's family $5.5 million. U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. later reduced the judgment to $4 million.
"Kenny Smith was a devoted son and talented artist who had committed no crime, nor posed any threat justifying his untimely death by the reckless and unconstitutional actions of this officer," attorneys for Smith's family said in a statement Friday.
Mark Gillispie can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mgillispie1.