Coffee County, GA — As TFTP reported, the family of an innocent 10-year-old boy filed a $2 million lawsuit on behalf of their son after he was shot by a trigger happy Georgia cop. The boy, Dakota Corbitt had his knee blown apart while officer Michael Vickers was attempting to kill his dog. Now, however, thanks to a system that is set up to protect abusive government employees, Vickers was granted “qualified immunity” and the federal appeals court threw out the family’s lawsuit.
Instead of having to face the lawsuit for excessive force — for shooting a 10-year-old boy while trying to kill his non-aggressive dog — Coffee County Deputy Sheriff Michael Vickers was entitled to “qualified immunity” for his actions and cannot be sued in federal court, the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week, according to Forbes.
The court ruled that because they couldn’t find “a materially similar case,” that Vickers “intentionally firing at the dog and unintentionally shooting [the 10-year-old] did not violate any clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.”
However, as CATO points out, given the shockingly reckless nature of Vickers’ actions here, it is of course unsurprising that no prior case involving precisely this sort of misconduct. The majority’s analysis vindicates the stinging criticism of Fifth Circuit Judge Don Willett, who recently stated in another case that “[t]o some observers, qualified immunity smacks of unqualified impunity, letting public officials duck consequences for bad behavior—no matter how palpably unreasonable—as long as they were the first to behave badly.”
Indeed. This officer raided the home of an innocent family, attempted to kill their dog, shot their child instead, and the government is protecting him from liability — claiming that no one had their rights violated.
Furthermore, because of this irresponsible ruling, Vickers could raid the home of another innocent family, shoot their child, and be granted qualified immunity once more.
As TFTP reported at the time, Dakota Corbitt and the rest of his family had done nothing wrong when they were swarmed by cops who held them at gunpoint before shooting the child.
The incident happened in July of 2014 when officers were looking for the suspect of an armed robbery and police shooting. The suspect, 19-year-old Christopher Barnett had fled to the woods near Corbitt’s home.
During Barnett’s apprehension, all hell broke loose as this innocent family had their rights violated at the hands of public servants.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants, Coffee County, Sheriff Doyle Wooten and deputy Michael Vickers, “jointly and severely deprived the plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ minor children of their rights secured by the 4th and 14th Amendments of the United States and as a direct and proximate result of said deprivation defendants’ negligence, gross negligence, and the wanton and willful indifference to the rights of the plaintiffs individually and the rights of the plaintiffs’ minor children, caused the physical pain, suffering, mental anguish and ultimately the permanent restriction of one minor’s right leg.
“On that date, Vickers, along with other officers of the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department and GBI agents, participated in an operation to apprehend a criminal suspect, Barnett. The defendants and fellow officers entered the plaintiff’s property at 145 Burton Road and demanded all persons in the area, including the children, to get down on the ground. Other than the suspect, one adult citizen, Damion Stewart, was on the property outside the residence with two children. While complying with the officers’ demands, Stewart was brutally handcuffed in the presence of his children and the barrel of a gun was placed in his back. Others located on the property included Jerry Rich, who was a minor at the time, Amy Corbitt’s minor child, Elizabeth Bowen’s minor child, and Tonya Johnson’s minor child. Corbitt was inside the home.
“The remaining minors were held at gunpoint, each having an officer forcefully shove the barrel of a loaded gun into their backs. These children feared for their lives and have been stripped of their confidence in the justice system.
“While the children were lying on the ground obeying the orders of Defendant Vickers, said Defendant unreasonably, maliciously, negligently and without necessity or any immediate threat of cause, discharged his firearm at the family pet twice. The first shot missed the animal, which retreated under the residence. At no time during the interim did Vickers ask someone to restrain the animal and at no time did any other agent attempt to restrain or subdue the animal. Approximately eight to ten seconds elapsed since the first shot and Vickers then discharged his weapon a second time as it was approaching the pet’s owners. He again missed the animal and struck Corbitt’s son in the back of the right knee.”
The boy was only 18 inches from the deputy who could’ve easily shot him in the back of the head instead of the leg.
“I ran out the house with one of my kids and saw my little brother on the porch pouring blood,” Janelle Rich, Corbitt’s sister said after the shooting.
According to the lawsuit, Vickers is no stranger to excessive and unnecessary force. This trigger happy dog killing cop was an apparent ticking time bomb and Corbitt just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Defendant Vickers has an extensive history of using unnecessary, excessive force of which Defendant Wooten is and was at the time of the subject matter incident aware of,” read the lawsuit. “Vickers’ extensive prior excessive force record includes approximately 10 separate occurrences in the immediate three years prior to the incident, the most recent of which was when Vickers shot and killed a dog during the execution of a search warrant about a month before the incident.”
Corbitt is still required to receive therapy for the wound, now years later. He’s also left emotionally traumatized and has little faith left in the system that led to him being shot.
According to Forbes, in December 2017, a federal judge ruled that Corbitt’s lawsuit against Vickers over the accidental shooting could proceed, since “no allegations suggest that Vickers was unsafe in any way or that Bruce exhibited any signs of aggression.”
Although the court did mildly admonish the deputy (“we do not doubt that Vickers could have acted more carefully; the firing of a deadly weapon at a dog located close enough to a prone child that the child is struck by a trained officer’s errant shot hardly qualifies as conduct we wish to see repeated”), it nevertheless could not “conclude that no reasonable officer would have fired his gun at the dog under the circumstances.”
The lawsuit sought a total of $4 million, with $2 million of that for Corbitt and the shooting victim to cover past and future medical expenses, recovery for pain and suffering, emotional distress, permanent disfigurement, and punitive damages. Now, because of this corrupt system, this family is back to square one. Shameful indeed.
Unfortunately, cops shooting children while trying to kill their dog is not isolated.
After interviewing the victim of a hit-and-run incident on June 19, 2015, Officer Jonathan Thomas was returning to his patrol car when he heard a woman from another house calling for help. Andrea Ellis had cut her arm on a piece of broken glass, and her sister, Brandie Kelly, called 911 to request an ambulance. While Kelly was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, she noticed Officer Thomas outside and called out to him for medical assistance.
Arriving at Ellis’ front door, Thomas suddenly pulled out his gun when he noticed the family dog approaching him. Although the pet did not attack Thomas, the officer abruptly opened fire and missed.
Instead of gunning down the dog, Thomas had mistakenly shot Ellis’ 4-year-old daughter, Ava Ellis, in the thigh.
Unlike the Corbitt’s, in 2016, Ellis’ family was awarded $780,000 for the incompetent actions of officer Thomas.
However, instead of firing Thomas or arresting him for negligently shooting an innocent child, police supervisors merely recommended a three-day suspension and retraining.
Officer Vickers received similar treatment from his department. He never received so much as a slap on the wrist for putting a bullet in an innocent boy. And so the vicious cycle of police negligence and their taxpayer supported unaccountable nature continues.