Miss. SC: City police immune from wrongful death suit

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 3, 2012, 11:45am


JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled last week that Jackson police officers did not act with "reckless disregard" of a woman's safety in a wrongful death suit filed by her family.

In its July 26 opinion, the Court reversed a decision by the Hinds County Circuit Court.

In September 2007, Jackson police officers were dispatched to the home of Doris Shavers on Ludlow Avenue, in response to calls that an armed man was making threats toward a minor on a bicycle. The "armed man" was Henry Phillips, who was living with Shavers at the time.

When officers arrived, Phillips was in possession of a .25-caliber weapon with a silver and brown handle. Officers left the scene, but returned shortly after to take the weapon from Phillips.

While one officer was with Phillips retrieving the gun, another officer talked with Shavers. There was no indication that Shavers was afraid of Phillips or that she wanted Phillips removed from her house.

With Phillips' help, the officers found the .25-caliber weapon in a nearby field and confiscated it. Shavers then went to her mother's home, also on Ludlow Avenue. When police left the scene, they took with them the gun they confiscated from Phillips.

Less than 10 minutes later, officers were dispatched back to Ludlow Avenue on a reported shooting. Phillips, using a different gun, shot and killed Shavers in her home.

Phillips pleaded guilty to murdering Shavers and is currently serving a life sentence.

In June 2008, Shalandria Shavers, individually and on behalf of Doris Shavers' beneficiaries and heirs, sued the city of Jackson, the Jackson Police Department, Henry Phillips and eight unnamed individuals for the woman's wrongful death.

The city filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming immunity under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act.

In a one-page order, the circuit court denied the city's motion.

The state's high court then granted the city's petition for interlocutory appeal, siding with the city.

"(The plaintiffs) claim that if the officers had run an NCIC background search on Phillips, they would have discovered that he was a convicted felon who was in possession of a firearm. Accordingly, had the officers run this search, the plaintiffs claim, they would have arrested Phillips on their initial encounter, thereby preventing Shavers' death," explained Chief Justice Bill Waller, who authored the Court's opinion.

"The city argues that the plaintiffs have not placed any evidence before the court indicating that Phillips was a convicted felon nor that the officers were required to run an NCIC check on Phillips."

The justice continued, "However, even if we assume that Phillips was a convicted felon, and even assuming the officers were required to run an NCIC or other background check, the plaintiffs have not presented evidence that the officers acted in 'reckless disregard' for the safety of Doris Shavers."

The only thing the officers in the case did allegedly to contribute to Shavers' death, Waller said, is to fail to arrest Phillips when they had a chance to do so.

"As was the case in Collins, there is no indication that the Jackson police officers 'knew that [they] could and/or [were] required to arrest [Phillips],'" the justice wrote. "There is no evidence that the officers acted in a willful or wanton manner, and no evidence suggests the officers intended for harm to follow their actions."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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