Gregory Hill, Jr., father of three children aged 13, 10, and 7, was shot and killed by two Florida sheriff’s deputies in the garage of his home in 2014. According to official reports, deputies went to Hill’s house in response to a noise complaint, and knocked on his front door at 3 p.m. After repeated knocking, Hill manually opened his garage door, then immediately put it back down. As the garage door closed, one deputy fired through the door, hitting Hill and killing him instantly.
The deputies claim Hill pointed a gun at them and refused orders to drop it. Other witnesses dispute that claim, and an unloaded firearm was allegedly found in Hill’s back pocket after he was killed. Hill’s family sued, and a jury awarded them $4: one dollar for funeral costs (which actually amounted to $11,000) and another dollar each for Hill’s three young children. That award was then reduced to nothing. How did it all happen?
Under Florida negligence laws, civil liability can be apportioned by the each party’s degree of blame in an accident. The eight jurors decided that one of the deputies was just one percent at fault for the shooting, while Hill, who was intoxicated at the time, was largely to blame for his own death: 99 percent to be exact. Additionally, for civil lawsuits in Florida, if a person is intoxicated and determined to be more than 50 percent at fault, their damages are automatically reduced to zero.
But while those are the legal nuts and bolts of the jury award, John Phillips, the family’s attorney, thinks something else was going on.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Phillips told the Washington Post:
“If you lose a case, give zero dollars. If you win a case, give fair value. That’s where we’re just kind of confused. Were they trying to say that we should be punished for basically bringing the suit and thus the dollar? Or were they saying that the true value of these children’s pain was a dollar?”
Phillips told CBS News that jurors’ demeanors changed over the course of their 10-hour deliberations. “The jury said they couldn’t reach a verdict after 8 hours and then reached one which valued a child’s pain and suffering at $1,” he recalled. “Something had changed … They looked angry. Like they wanted a way out.”
The attorney also explained that jurors would have been aware that, given Hill’s intoxication and their determination that he was more at fault for the shooting than the deputies, any award they granted would be reduced to zero.
“Some jurors were determined to punish the family for being in court,” Phillips asserted. “Either that is punitive or this family’s lives were virtually worthless. $0 would have been better.” He likened the jury’s decision to giving paltry tips to restaurant servers for bad service. “Without a tip,” Phillips told the Post, “they may wonder if I forgot to tip, or if I was just cheap. If I leave a dollar, they’re going to know I intended to tip and this is an insult.”
Phillips added that the family is planning to appeal the jury verdict.
- ‘Black Lives Don’t Matter,’ Lawyer Says After Jury Awards $4 in Police Killing (CNN)
- What Damages Are Awarded in Wrongful Death Lawsuits? (FindLaw’s Injured)
- What You Need to Know About Suing the Police (FindLaw’s Injured)
- Police Brutality Lawsuits and Section 1983 (FindLaw’s Injured)