By Ros Krasny
BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that the town of East Haven, Connecticut, is not liable in the 1997 shooting death of Malik Jones, an unarmed black man, by a police officer.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York overturned a lower court decision in favor of Jones' mother, Emma Jones. It had awarded her $900,000 in damages in 2010 for the death of her son, but the town of East Haven appealed.
The case, in which Jones, a 21-year-old African American, was trailed in a police cruiser and later shot to death at close range by East Haven officer Robert Flodquist, became synonymous with racial profiling.
Jones' mother claimed that Flodquist, another officer and the town of East Haven, had "a custom, policy, or usage of deliberate indifference to the rights of black people."
The appeals court ruled that the evidence was insufficient to hold East Haven liable.
Attorney Hugh Keefe, who represented East Haven, said the verdict would save the town and its taxpayers "several million dollars."
Emma Jones' attorney, David Rosen, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
In overturning the verdict the judges said plaintiffs did show a pattern of behavior that would prove municipal liability on the part of East Haven in the Malik Jones case.
Still, the ruling recognized "instances of reprehensible and at times illegal and unconstitutional conduct by individual officers."
The judges also said that they were "aware of recent reports concerning the alleged misconduct" by the town's police.
Four East Haven police officers were charged in January with using excessive force against undocumented Hispanic immigrants. A civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice earlier found a pattern of discrimination toward Latins.
East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo was forced to apologize in January after, when asked what he might do to mend fences with the Latino community, answered that he "might have tacos when I get home."
(Reporting By Ros Krasny; Editing by Richard Chang and Cynthia Osterman)