FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A federal court jury found the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office partially liable in the January 2014 fatal shooting of Gregory Hill Jr. in the garage of his home, but damages awarded to Hill’s family amount to 4 cents.
After four days of testimony last week, evidence and attorneys’ arguments, the jury deliberated about 10 hours before finding that St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara, in his official capacity, was negligent but was only 1 percent liable.
The jury found that Hill, who was 30, “was under the influence of alcoholic beverages to the extent that his normal faculties were impaired and that as a result of the influence of such alcoholic beverage,” he was 99 percent liable for the “incident and his resulting injuries,” according to the verdict form.
Deputy Christopher Newman was found not liable.
The jury awarded $4 in damages — $1 to Hill’s mother, Viola Bryant, for funeral expenses and $1 to each of Hill’s three children for loss of parental companionship, instruction, guidance, mental pain and suffering.
Because the jury decided the sheriff was 1 percent liable, the portion of the award the Sheriff’s Office must pay is reduced to 4 cents.
The lawsuit filed by Hill’s mother in 2016 on the second anniversary of Hill’s death, alleged negligence and municipal liability against Mascara.
The suit also alleged that Newman, who already had been cleared by a grand jury, violated her son's Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force resulting in a wrongful death under Florida law.
Bryant’s attorney, John Phillips, argued that the deputy and Sheriff’s Office used “unreasonable, negligent and excessive” tactics, but the jury did not agree.
Mascara issued a statement through the Sheriff’s Office that said, “We are pleased to see this difficult and tragic incident come to a conclusion.
“Deputy Newman was placed in a very difficult situation, and like so many fellow law enforcement officers must do every day, he made the best decision he could for the safety of his partner, himself, and the public given the circumstances he faced.
“We appreciate the jury’s time and understanding and wish everyone involved in this case the best as they move forward.”
Phillips did not make himself available for comment other than to say through his assistant in his Jacksonville, Fla. office that he wanted to spend some time with his family this weekend and will review the trial and verdict before making any statements.
Newman shot Hill, who worked at a Coca-Cola warehouse, while he and his partner, Deputy Edward Lopez, were investigating a complaint about loud, obscene music at Hill’s home as students at Frances K. Sweet Magnet School, which is across the street, were being let out.
The deputies knocked on the garage door.
When no one responded, Newman knocked on the front door. He heard the music get louder and turned to see the garage door opening. Hill stood facing out of the garage with his left hand on the door and his right hand down.
Newman drew his gun, and as the garage door started to go down, fired four times toward Hill, tracking upward.
When a SWAT team arrived soon after and went inside the garage, it confirmed that Hill was dead and found a gun in his back pocket.
He had been shot three times: twice in the abdomen and once in the head.
Toxicology reports from Hill’s autopsy showed his blood-alcohol level was nearly 0.40 percent, almost five times the legal limit of 0.08 percent to drive, sheriff’s officials said.
Investigators identified his weapon as a 9mm handgun, which was later found to be unloaded.