Featured photo: On the one-year anniversary of Fred Cox Jr.s’ killing, a group of activists gathered outside of the Guilford Courthouse in downtown Greensboro to raise awareness about his case. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
For those who had gathered outside Guilford County Courthouse doors with signs and a bullhorn, Monday, Nov. 8 marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Fred Cox Jr.
Chants of, “Fred should not be dead!” and, “Charge murderer Michael Shane Hill” rang out as a small group of activists appealed to those catching their early-morning court hearings.
A year ago today, Cox Jr. was attending a memorial service in High Point when individuals driving past Living Water Baptist Church started shooting towards the building. Cox, who was standing outside, began running into the church for cover when he was shot and killed by Davidson County Sherriff’s Deputy Michael Shane Hill. As of Monday, Hill is still employed by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy investigator, according to Davidson County’s human resources department.
Now, Cox’s family and friends say they are still fighting for justice.
On Aug. 11, attorneys representing Tenicka Shannon, Cox’s mother, filed a civil lawsuit against the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and Hill. In addition to local High Point attorneys Ashley Mills and Lyndsey McPherson, nationally-reknowned lawyers Benjamin Crump and Antonio Romanucci were also recruited for the case. The suit was filed in US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, and 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.
Recently, attorneys representing the sheriff’s office and Hill filed two separate responses to the complaints made by Shannon and her lawyers in the initial filing. Patrick Flanagan of Cranfill Sumner LLP out of Charlotte is listed as the attorney for the sheriff’s office while Ryan Eubanks of Sumrell Suggs Attorneys at Law of New Bern is listed as the lawyer for Hill.
In the response by the sheriff’s office filed on Oct. 1, Flanagan admits Hill was an employee who attended the service in plainclothes and had his gun with him. They deny almost everything else.
First, the attorney claims that Cox had a gun in his hand. However, in interviews with TCB, eyewitnesses noted that Cox did not have a gun when he attended the church and an investigation by the Guilford County District Attorney’s office from June also stated that “there was no evidence presented that Cox Jr. was in a gang or that he discharged a weapon.” The response goes on to deny that Hill shot Cox or that he continued to shoot as Cox and others entered the church. The only admission the response makes is that “Mr. Cox died” and that the “autopsy is a written document which speaks for itself.”
According to the autopsy, Cox died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds.
Unlike the response by the sheriff’s office, the one by Hill’s attorney, filed on Oct. 29, admits that Hill shot Cox. However, the attorney lists several defenses that aim to clear Hill from wrongdoing in the eyes of the court.
First, Hill pleads public official immunity, then sovereign and or governmental immunity and then qualified immunity. According to the UNC School of Government, public official immunity “bars civil claims against public officials for actions taken within the scope of their duties unless those actions were malicious or corrupt.” However, “this immunity does not extend to public employees, who may be held personally liable for injuries caused by negligence in the performance of their duties.”
Sovereign or governmental immunity “is the state’s immunity from most kinds of lawsuits unless the state consents to be sued. Governmental immunity is generally understood to be that portion of the state’s sovereign immunity which extends to local governments.”
Qualified immunity, which has been the subject of much discussion in the public sphere when it comes to police killings, “protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional right,” according to a definition by Cornell University.
Lastly, Hill also pleads contributory negligence as an affirmative defense. In the ensuing paragraph, Hill and his attorney note that if the court finds that Hill acted with negligence, which they deny, then Cox was also negligent, and that his own negligence contributed to his death. Specifically, the response makes the argument that Cox approached Hill in an aggressive manner while holding a handgun, an argument that goes against the district attorney’s official findings.
When asked about some of the defendants’ responses, Cox’s mother, Tenicka Shannon, expressed tired frustration.
“What negligence did [Fred] have?” she asked. “What did he do? Even the DA said that Fred did not have a gun, that he was not in a gang, so why is my child gone?”
On the anniversary of her child’s death Shannon said she felt “numb” and that the last year has been difficult for her and her family.
“Fred was my reason,” she said. “He defined me, and I defined him. We taught each other how to grow up and it’s difficult now without him because he played a major part in my life and I really can’t define who I am now because my definition is gone, so it’s been a long 356 days.”
On Monday evening, a memorial is planned for Cox in High Point near the church where he was killed. Shannon said that she plans to be there even if it is difficult. She noted that she was tired of the case dragging on, with the defendants asking for multiple extensions throughout the process. She said she doesn’t know what to expect for the outcome of the case but that she plans on continuing to speak out about what happened to her only child.
“There’s a sense of loneliness because Fred as the life of the house when he was here,” Shannon said. “It’s been long days and nights without him, and we won’t stop fighting for justice.”
A memorial for Cox will take place at 1300 Brentwood St. in High Point at 6 p.m. on Monday evening.