The family of man fatally shot in his own front yard by a Prichard police officer in 2017 has filed a federal lawsuit against the city as well as the individual officer.
As Lagniappe has reported, 56-year-old Lawrence Hawkins was fatally wounded by Prichard police officer Jonathan Murphy on Nov. 18, 2017, during what was initially described as a traffic stop. It was later revealed Hawkins was in his own yard when he was shot and was unarmed at the time.
The incident was investigated by the Prichard Police Department (PPD) internally and also by the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO).
The cause of the traffic stop was never revealed publicly, and there were also witnesses who claimed they did not see blue lights on Murphy’s patrol car when the shooting occurred. Others said Hawkins was reaching for a cell phone when he was shot. A phone was later recovered from inside his vehicle.
The circumstances of the shooting led to concern in the community, and to peaceful demonstrations that included Hawkins’s family, neighbors and representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Murphy and Hawkins are both black.
Questions were also raised about Murphy being allowed to leave the scene after the shooting and returning to give a statement to investigators at a later date. At the time, Sheriff Sam Cochran said MCSO was conducting “a criminal investigation, not an internal investigation” and the delay occurred so Murphy could obtain legal representation before being questioned.
Though it’s unclear how long MCSO’s investigation lasted, court records indicate Murphy was cleared of any type of potential criminal wrongdoing in February after a Mobile County grand jury found his actions were justified. However, Hawkins’s family is still moving forward with a civil lawsuit.
The family’s complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama last week, claims Murphy used excessive force, conducted an unlawful search and seizure, wrongfully killed Hawkins and then failed to provide or seek out timely medical attention for him.
It argues the level of force used was unnecessary because Murphy had not witnessed Hawkins committing a crime and didn’t have any information suggesting he was armed with a weapon.
“At the time of the shooting [Hawkins] posed no immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to Murphy, or any other person, especially since he was unarmed and sitting in his parked vehicle outside of his own residence,” the complaint reads. “Murphy did not give [Hawkins] a verbal warning that deadly force would be used prior to shooting [him] multiple times.”
The lawsuit also accuses the city of failing to properly train its officers, enforce reasonable policies and of hiring “officers with a known propensity for police misconduct.” Lagniappe contacted Capt. Robert Martin to ask whether Murphy was still employed with PPD, but has yet to receive a response.
So far, neither the city nor Murphy have filed a formal answer to the complaint against them.
Hawkins’s family is being represented by Birmingham attorney Rodney Barganier, who has worked for the families of other individuals killed in officer-involved shootings, including for the family of E.J. Bradford, who was killed by a police officer in Hoover at the Riverchase Galleria on Nov. 22, 2018.
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