Inadequate Security Cases
Jill Marker, an employee of the Silk Plant Forest, a store in the Silas Creek Crossing Shopping Center in Winston-Salem (directly across the street from Hanes Mall), was beaten, robbed and left for dead just before closing on December 9, 1995. A suit was brought on her behalf against the owners of the shopping center and the security company for their failure to provide adequate security measures. At the time, there was a single armed guard who was sitting in his own personal vehicle parked in a far corner of the parking lot. The contract with the security stated that the security company was to maintain high visibility through vehicular and foot patrols and to act as a deterrent against theft and other criminal activities. The defendants denied negligence and alleged, among other things, that the store itself was negligent and partly responsible for any damages. The plaintiff’s claims against the owners of the shopping center settled before trial in 1998 for $9,250,000. The dismissal of plaintiff’s claims against the security company were affirmed on appeal.
Shooting/Wrongful Death/$20 Million Judgment
James Milton Johnson, a Forsyth County Deputy Sheriff, was shot and killed by Denny C. Booth on November 11, 2004. Deputy Johnson was returning home with his grandson when they were confronted by Booth, who had moments earlier shot and killed Dwight Allen and his mother-in-law, Reba Idol. Booth had returned to his former neighborhood to confront Allen over a lingering property dispute. When Booth, stilled armed, approached them, Deputy Johnson was able to distract Booth long enough to allow his grandson to escape and to divert Booth’s attention from Johnson’s home where his wife was preparing dinner. Despite Johnson’s efforts to diffuse the situation, Booth shot Johnson five times at close range. Johnson died on the scene. Booth was later shot by law enforcement called to the scene, but survived, and was charged with three counts of first degree murder. Johnson had been married to his wife for forty years, was the father of three children, and had five grandchildren. In addition to serving as a reserve sergeant with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department, he was a master mechanic and owned his own automobile business. He had also served with the Kernersville Police Department for 28 years. His name has been inscribed on the National Wall for Fallen Officers in Washington, DC. His estate brought suit against Booth for wrongful death. Booth was not represented by legal counsel, did not contest any of the allegations, and likely cannot satisfy any judgment against him. On July 9, 2007, after evidence was presented in Superior Court, default judgment was entered against Booth in the amount of $20 million. Of that amount, compensatory damages were $5 million, and punitive damages were $15 million — the maximum allowable by law (three times the amount of compensatory damages).
Shooting/Murder/Wrongful Death/$14.96 Million Judgment
Jimmy Blevins was lured from his home in Ashe County, North Carolina, and murdered on February 24, 2007. His family offered $15,000 in reward money for information about the case. His convicted killer, Freddie P. Hammer, did not reveal what had happened to Blevins. During this time, Hammer was convicted of killing three other men on a Christmas tree farm and is in prison in Virginia serving five life sentences for those crimes. Over two years after killing Blevins, Hammer agreed to reveal the location of the grave if the Blevins family would agree to transfer the $15,000 in reward money to an attorney to be held for his step granddaughter. Within a few days after the money was transferred, Hammer confessed to killing Blevins and gave directions to law enforcement officers where they could find the body. Blevins was found in a shallow grave. He had been shot in the back of the head. On behalf of the estate, attorneys with the firm filed an Interpleader Action and obtained an Order from the Court returning the money to the family. The estate then filed a Wrongful Death suit against Hammer, who denied the allegations in the Complaint and requested a jury trial. Hammer did not appear at trial and was not represented by legal counsel, and likely cannot satisfy any judgment against him. Since he did not appear at trial, the judge proceeded without a jury and heard evidence of the killing from the Ashe County Sheriff and a Sheriff’s detective who heard Hammer confess to the killing. After hearing evidence from Blevins’ father and brother, the court entered judgment in the amount of $14.96 million on March 11, 2011. Of that amount, compensatory damages were $3.74 million and punitive damages (limited by statute to three times compensatory damages) were $11.22 million (the maximum allowed).
Shooting/ Wrongful Death/Sheriff’s Deputy Shot Unarmed Boy Through Closed Door
Members of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department Emergency Response Team (ERT), the equivalent to a SWAT team, fired their automatic submachine guns through the closed front door of a rental home in Wilmington, NC, on December 1, 2006. Peyton Strickland, an unarmed 18 year-old college student, was shot twice through the closed door. He died from a gunshot to the head while his parents were en route to the hospital. Peyton’s pet dog was also shot and killed by the deputies during the raid. The SWAT team had been requested by a university police force to serve a warrant following an alleged theft of a Sony PlayStation game system. Before the case was filed, the sheriff’s department agreed in February, 2008 to settle for $2.45 million. The sheriff issued a public apology, acknowledging that Peyton posed no threat as he answered his front door. As part of the settlement, the sheriff agreed to allow an audit of the SWAT team procedures. Peyton Strickland’s parents created the Peyton Brooks Strickland Foundation, a charitable organization in New Hanover County, and then donated proceeds from the settlement funds to that non-profit organization.
Shooting/Wrongful Deaths/Football Game Parking Lot
Two 23-year-old men were shot and killed while tailgating at a North Carolina State University football game on September 4, 2004. The young men were best friends who met along with a group of other friends in Raleigh for a weekend before one of them, a 2d Lt. in the US Marines, was scheduled to deploy to Iraq as an infantry officer. (The other was an account executive for an insurance brokerage company in Chicago.) After the tailgate party was recommended by local residents, the group of friends took a taxi cab to the stadium. Upon exiting the cab, they were directed to a tailgating lot on the property of the NC State fairgrounds, which was operated by a parking vendor. While tailgating, the young men observed and defused a dangerous situation involving a reckless driver who almost struck a little girl with his car. The driver left the lot, but later returned seeking revenge. He located the young men, lured them to another part of the lot, and then attacked one of them with a broken bottle. His older brother then shot and killed both men at short range. The perpetrators fled the scene, but were quickly caught and criminally tried and convicted, respectively, of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Plaintiffs alleged that the parking company and governmental entities failed to provide adequate security in the parking lot. Neither man was married nor had children; the survivors were their parents. The cases settled in March 2008 after mediation.