Four million, one-hundred-and-nine thousand, two-hundred-and-twenty-four dollars and eighteen cents. That’s how much the city of Greensboro has spent in taxpayer dollars to defend police officers who have used force against residents in the last five years.
According to a public records request made by Triad City Beat, the city has paid attorneys more than $4 million across six civil lawsuits to defend police officers who have been accused of using excessive force, which in some instances left victims dead. All of the victims have been Black or Brown. In 2020, TCB analyzed police killings in the Triad from 2010-20 and found that both men and people of color, particularly African Americans, were overrepresented as victims of law enforcement violence.
Click here to view the itemized attorney’s fees document.
The most famous of these cases is the case of Marcus Deon Smith, an unhoused man experiencing a mental health crisis who was hogtied by Greensboro police officers and killed in 2018. The ensuing civil lawsuit cost the city more than $3.7 million in attorneys fees, which doesn’t include the final settlement of $2.57 million which was paid to the family in February 2022.
The second most expensive lawsuit of the last five years has been the ongoing civil suit between the city and former Greensboro police officer Matthew Hamilton and Joe Lopez, on behalf of his son Joseph Lopez who was shot and killed by Hamilton in November 2021. The civil case was filed against the city and Hamilton in June 2022, and in the most recent update to the case, US District Court Judge Loretta Biggs denied Hamilton’s request to have the lawsuit dismissed. Biggs also denied Hamilton’s requests for qualified immunity and public official immunity. So far, the city has spent $127,873 in private attorney fees to defend Hamilton and the city.
A criminal case is also ongoing for Hamilton after he was indicted by a grand jury with the crime of manslaughter.
Another case that has cost the city a significant amount of time and taxpayer’s dollars was the case involving Zared Jones, which stems from an incident in which Jones and his friends, who are Black, were harassed and Tased by Greensboro officers downtown in 2017. The case, which only wrapped up last year, totaled $106,261 in attorney’s fees. While the case against the city and officers was dismissed according to court records in July 2022, the case became notable for a back-and-forth conflict between the city, the courts and the public on whether or not police body-camera footage could be released or discussed by city officials.
In June of this year, a Guilford County Superior Court judge agreed to lift a five-year-old gag order on city council members that prevented them from commenting on the footage, as reported by the News & Record.
(UPDATED 8/24): According to a new public records request sent to TCB, the city has also spent $208,363 in attorney’s fees for the separate suit regarding the gag order involving body-camera footage release from the Jones incident. View the document here.
Paulickia Jazzman Hairston
In 2019, Paulickia Jazzman Hairston was shot by a Greensboro police officer after police claimed Hairston intentionally drove the car towards police.
Hairston, who was 27 years old at the time, spent several days in the hospital due to the ensuing injuries, according to WFMY News 2. After she was released from the hospital, Hairston was booked into the county jail on a $500,000 bond which was eventually reduced to $20,000. According to court records, Hairston filed a civil suit against the officer involved, BK Talley, former police chiefs Wayne Scott and Brian James, private investigator Jerome Palmenteri, the city of Greensboro, Assistant District Attorney Robert Enochs and District Attorney Avery Crump in June 2022. In the initial complaint, Hairston argues that her constitutional rights were violated under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Thus far, the city has paid $103,952 in attorney fees in this ongoing civil suit.
In 2022, just three years after Hairston was shot by police, 17-year-old Nasanto Crenshaw was shot and killed by a Greensboro police officer after he, too, alleged that Crenshaw drove towards him and the officer feared for his life. As reported by TCB, body-camera and dash-cam footage that was released from the Aug. 21, 2022 incident earlier this year appears to contradict the police department’s assertion that Crenshaw was driving directly towards Officer Sletten when he shot and killed Crenshaw. Thus far, the city has paid $64,086 in attorney’s fees in the civil suit filed by Wakita Doriety, Crenshaw’s mother in March of this year. In July, a district judge dismissed the case against Sletten and the city of Greensboro. On Aug. 17, Doriety and her lawyers filed an appeal against the dismissal. The case is ongoing.
Levan LaForrest Sanders
In late November 2021, Levan LaForrest Sanders, who was 38 years old at the time, was arrested after being charged with shooting and killing Taha Abdalla Babeker, 54, of Greensboro, according to local reports. Sanders and three others were charged with multiple crimes including counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, first degree kidnapping, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and accessory after the fact, according to WFMY News 2.
Last year, Sanders filed to separate suits against the officer involved and an assistant district attorney for violating his civil rights. The case against the assistant district attorney was closed in October 2022 while the second case is ongoing. Thus far, the city has paid $3,084 in attorney’s fees in the latter case.
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