Featured photo: Attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who represented the family of George Floyd, announced their decision on Wednesday in Greensboro to file a civil lawsuit on behalf of the family of Fred Cox Jr. who was shot and killed by a Davidson County Sheriff’s deputy in November 2020. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
On Wednesday afternoon attorneys representing the family of Fred Cox Jr., the man shot dead by a sheriff’s deputy in High Point, announced that they were filing a civil lawsuit against the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Michael Shane Hill and others on behalf of Cox’s family.
Cox Jr. was 18 years old when he was shot and killed by Deputy Hill on Nov. 8, 2020 while running into a church during a drive-by shooting. According to previous reporting by Triad City Beat, Cox Jr. was attempting to shepherd Vivian Wright and her 12-year-old son Tavaris Wright into the church when Hill started shooting in their direction. An autopsy report showed that Cox died from multiple gunshot wounds that entered his body from behind. A separate set of attorneys are also representing Wright and her son Tavaris.
As TCB has reported in the past, Hill has a history of suspensions and demotions and is still currently employed by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.
The complaint, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina includes six counts including the use of excessive force by Hill, as well as a Monell claim alleging a pattern of practices and behaviors by the Davidson County Sheriff’s office that violate the civil rights of individuals. The complaint includes a wrongful death claim and negligence as well as a survival battery and negligence claim, all of which attempt to show that Hill “caused malicious and needless bodily harm and reasonable care was not taken to prevent those injuries,” according to the press release.
Named in the suit is Tenicka Shannon, Cox’s mother, who is the administrator of his estate and the plaintiff in the case. She is represented by attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who represented the family of George Floyd to win a historic settlement of $27 million in March. Shannon is also represented by a team of local lawyers including attorneys Ashley Mill and Lyndsey McPherson, both from High Point.
While the suit filed today is civil and will thus not be seeking criminal charges against Hill, Attorney Crump noted at the press conference that they will be “turning to the Department of Justice’s civil rights division to open up an investigation into this matter.”
At the local level, a grand jury failed to indict Hill after Guilford County District Attorney Avery Crump and her office presented evidence on June 1.
On July 1, District Attorney Crump told TCB in a statement that “what needs to be understood is that even if a decision was made to charge first, the case still would have had to go to the grand jury for them to decide if there is probable cause to proceed to trial. The grand jury found insufficient probable cause to charge the officer in this case. If a charge had been taken, then it would have been dismissed when the grand jury failed to indict.”
Because of that, attorney Ben Crump said his team will be asking the federal government to take action in addition to the civil suit.
For the civil case filed today, the complaint is “seeking compensatory, punitive and special damages and costs.” When asked at the press conference about a specific amount, Crump declined to say, but noted that his goal is to show law enforcement departments that they cannot afford to keep killing unarmed Black and Brown men and women.
“It is our intent to raise the value of Black life in America so much in fact that every time the police shoot one of our children in the back, we want to make it financially unsustainable for them to continue to do,” Crump said. “That is the goal…. We are trying to create a track record that you cannot afford to keep killing afford to Black people unjustly in America.”
While much of the information included in the suit has been reported by TCB, one of the claims that the lawsuit makes is that the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, under Sheriff Simmons who is currently in charge, “has a pattern, practice, and custom of using excessive and deadly force in situations where less-than-lethal force is appropriate” and that the “DCSO and Sheriff Simmons have not disciplined, reprimanded or terminated a single Sheriff’s deputy who has shot and killed someone on duty.”
To back up that claim, the suit notes that since Sheriff Simmons was elected in November 2018, fatal shootings by the department have increased. The suit notes that DCSO deputies have shot and killed eight people since 2014 and that six of those eight people were shot and killed between 2019-21, under Simmons’ watch.
During the press conference, mother Tenicka Shannon thanked community members for supporting her throughout the last nine months since Cox’s death.
“It’s been nine long, hard, sleepless [months] now and our family is still in deep grief,” Shannon said through a stream of sobs. “We will keep fighting for justice in his name as long as it takes. We miss him so badly. We all miss him so badly. Our sadness is compounded by sheer confusion about how this tragedy could have happened. I did my best to raise a well-mannered young man that would give you the clothes off his back and it hurts so bad that Mama was not there to save her baby. I’ve always been his hero and now he is someone else’s hero. I appreciate all of the support from everyone ’cause I cannot do this alone. That was my only child, my only child. I’ve never been without hearing my baby’s voice, without seeing his face this long and to know that I will never have that opportunity to do that again is gut-wrenching, it hurts so bad.”
In a phone call on Wednesday afternoon, Sheriff Simmons responded that his office hasn’t received the complaint or been served with any paperwork yet. However, Simmons did note that both the District Attorney’s office and the State Bureau of Investigations didn’t file any criminal charges against his department.
“We haven’t been served with anything so I don’t have any statements about anything I can’t see because we haven’t been served with anything,” Simmons said. “We’ve been cleared criminally by the SBI and by the DA’s office; there’s no criminal offenses on this.”