The family of an unarmed Louisiana man shot and killed by a Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) deputy two years ago is moving forward with a civil lawsuit against the deputy and Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack.
Jonathan Victor (pictured above in a photo provided by his family) was fatally shot by BCSO deputy Sgt. Matt Hunady on May 12, 2017, following a single-vehicle accident along Interstate 10. Officers said Victor had not responded to attempts by first responders to communicate with him and they believed he may have had a weapon.
Body-camera footage released by BCSO captured officers giving Victor multiple verbal commands that included “do not advance,” “stay right there” and “put it down” as he left the vehicle that had run off the interstate. Victor did not respond to the commands and appeared to be holding something covered in an article of clothing while slowly advancing toward officers.
It was later determined Victor was holding a fanny pack. No gun was ever recovered from the scene.
Hunady, who was one of several officers on the scene, but the only one who opened fired on Victor, was cleared of any wrongdoing in late 2017 after a Baldwin County grand jury determined his use of lethal force was justified given the circumstances.
At a press conference after the grand jury’s decision, investigators told the media “suicide by cop” was one theory for Victor’s behavior. They also noted Victor’s autopsy showed injuries to his wrists, which they believed were sustained before the shooting.
Victor’s mother, Donna Chisesi, who filed the pending lawsuit lawsuit in May, has rejected the “suicide by cop” theory. But regardless of his motive or actions, her attorney argues Hunady had a duty “to use reasonable care in preventing unnecessary harm to [Victor]” during their encounter.
The complaint accuses Hunady of causing Victor’s “wrongful death” and Mack of not “adequately training and supervising” his deputies in the field. It also claims BCSO improperly handled a situation involving “a clearly injured individual” who was showing “signs of an altered state of mind” at the time.
The complaint also maintains that, despite not following orders, Victor never had a weapon and never threatened anyone.
“At no point did emergency personnel, employees of BSCO or defendant Hunady confirm that Jonathan in fact had a weapon on his person or in the vehicle,” the complaint reads. “At no point did Jonathan threaten to inflict any harm on any BCSO agents, other law enforcement officers or any third parties; or attempt to inflict any harm on anyone with the use of a weapon or otherwise.”
In an answer to the complaint, attorneys representing Hunady and Mack denied most of the allegations and reiterated statements from purported eyewitnesses at the scene. In a series of footnotes, attorney J. Randall McNeill recounts a voluntary statement given by motorist Donald Wayne Alumbaugh.
Alumbaugh told investigators he and his wife came upon the silver BMW Victor was driving on the side of I-10 and they remained on the scene until after Victor was shot. He said deputies “attempted numerous times” to get Victor out of the vehicle and asked him to show his hands on multiple occasions.
“Alumbaugh stated when the driver did exit the vehicle from the passenger side, it appeared he had a gun and was advancing on the deputies,” the court filing reads. “[He said] the deputies told the driver many times to put his hands up and lay on the ground and the subject then was running towards them, making motions like he was shooting when the deputy shot him.”
The complaint also notes that LifeCopter paramedics administered 80 mg of Ketamine to Victor after he was shot — something Chisesi previously told Lagniappe she discovered after receiving a $37,703 bill from the air ambulance service that transported her son to a hospital in Mobile after he was shot.
She has raised issues with the manner in which the BCSO portrayed the Ketamine found in Victor’s system to the media — a detail nearly every local news outlet reported in stories about the shooting.
First responders on the scene that day noted that Victor appeared to be in an altered state of mind, and his family has conceded as much in the complaint of their lawsuit. Based on BCSO’s accounts of the incident, many speculated Victor might have been under the influence of some kind of drug or alcohol.
Police first mentioned that “a narcotic” showed up in Victor’s toxicology report during a press conference on Oct. 16, 2017. That information was divulged after a TV reporter asked whether Victor was “high or drunk” at the time of the shooting.
Baldwin County District Attorney Bob Wilters later clarified the substance was Ketamine, which he said was “not one of the normal drugs that we see on a regular basis.” Chief Ed Delmore, chairman of the Baldwin County Major Crimes Unit, then chimed in and said: “It’s abused. It’s a drug that’s abused.”
No one at the press conference informed reporters that Ketamine was administered to Victor by paramedics attempting to save his life or that his toxicology report indicated he was not on any detectable mind-altering substances at the time he was shot by Hunady.
Chisesi is being represented in the lawsuit by J. Samuel Tenenbaum, the director of the Complex Civil Litigation and Investor Protection Center at Northwestern University in Chicago. Reached by Lagniappe, Tenenbaum declined to speak about the lawsuit at this point.
It’s worth nothing that Lagniappe has also filed a lawsuit against BCSO seeking the release of several records related to Victor’s shooting and the investigation that was conducted afterward by the Baldwin County Major Crimes Unit. Lagniappe is not involved in the civil lawsuit Chisesi filed earlier this year.
At this time both cases are still pending in front of different judges in Baldwin County.
Gabriel Tynes contributed to this report.
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