Judge rules for Petal in 2017 officer-involved shooting

By HASKEL BURNS,

A federal judge has sided with the City of Petal in a 2017 police-officer involved shooting that left a man dead, saying the officer was justified in his actions because of the behavior of the individual.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett issued a final judgment in favor of the city and dismissed the case, bringing to an end the complaint filed in federal court last year by Yoshanta Albert, the wife of Marc Davis. Davis, a native of Laplace, Louisiana, was allegedly shot by a Petal Police Department officer on the morning of June 2, 2017, after police responded to a two-vehicle accident near the intersection of Mississippi 42 and Leeville Road in Petal.

Federal court documents state that on the day of the shooting, patrol officer Aaron Jernigan arrived at the scene of the accident, where he checked on the people involved, including Davis. Jernigan said Davis was “acting in a strange manner and would not answer if he was ok or needed an ambulance,” and another witness said Davis “was walking around like he was out of it” and “seemed a little aggravated.”

Davis continued to walk toward Jernigan, at which point Jernigan moved away and asked Davis to sit down, but Davis did not comply. Davis moved closer and “lunged” at Jernigan, trying to take his firearm.

The two fought over the weapon, and Jernigan used his TASER on Davis, but that weapon had no effect. After civilians helped Jernigan remove Davis’ hand from the gun, Jernigan backed up, drew his firearm and aimed it at Davis, ordering him to stay on the ground.

Davis got up and “aggressively” advanced toward Jernigan; when Jernigan ordered him to stop, he did not. Jernigan then shot Davis three times.

Albert filed her original complaint against the City of Petal, then-Police Chief Leonard Fuller and Jernigan. The complaint cited “use of excessive force, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, battery and assault” against Davis, and also alleged the officer unexpectedly and without warning shot Davis, who was unarmed.

The incident was investigated by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, who determined the shooting was justified. In addition, the city filed a response in opposition to Albert’s wrongful death complaint.

Starrett’s order states that Jernigan’s use of deadly force was reasonable, as “it is undisputed that Davis physically assaulted Jernigan, attempted to take his firearm, and refused to comply with verbal orders to stand down. … Jernigan did not use excessive force, and even if he had, he would be entitled to qualified immunity from liability because his actions were reasonable under the circumstances.”

The court also found justification for Jernigan firing three times, rather than just once.

“Here, there is no evidence of any substantive delay between Jernigan’s shots, and plaintiff has not argued or directed the court to any evidence that Davis was incapacitated by the first or second shot,” the document states.

Finally, the court found that Jernigan did not react unreasonably by failing to use non-lethal force before shooting Davis, as he used two forms of non-lethal force.

“First, he tried to physically push Davis away during their initial struggle,” the document states. “Second, he used a TASER on Davis during their initial struggle, but it was ineffective.

“At the moment of the shooting, Jernigan’s TASER was somewhere on the ground.”

Petal Mayor Hal Marx said he agreed with Starrett’s decision.

“I am pleased that the judge saw the facts in this case and decided it was without merit,” he said. “Our officer acted in self-defense and used lethal force as a last resort.

“This incident was witnessed by several citizens who verified the officer’s account of what occurred. The judge made the correct decision.”