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Jury rules in favor of man shot by Clayton police officers

Posted September 22, 2009

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— A federal jury has awarded $500,000 in damages to a man suing the town of Clayton and three police officers who shot him five years ago.

Manuel Pena was inside his home on Feb. 2, 2004, when, court documents show, the officers fired 16 rounds of ammunition, striking Pena twice. Officers, at the time, had been looking for another man and thought he might have been inside Pena's home.

manuel-pena Federal jury rules in favor of man shot by Clayton police officers

Pena claimed that officers used excessive force against him, and a judge previously ruled that officers illegally searched his home.

The jury had to decide whether the officers used excessive force, and if so, how much should he be compensated for it. It also had to decide whether Pena should be compensated for the illegal search.

After more than a day of deliberation, the jury found no wrongdoing on the officers' part in relation to Pena's claims of excessive force.

It did award him $300,000 in compensatory damages stemming from the illegal search. Two of the three officers must also pay a combined total of $200,000 in punitive damages.

Both sides said following the verdict that they were pleased with the outcome.

"What we came here to defend was the excessive force claims and the state law claims arising out of the shooting, and we're very gratified that we were successful in defending those claims," said defense attorney Dan Hartzog.

It's unclear whether there will be any appeals in the case.

Four months after the shooting, an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Johnston County's district attorney's office cleared the officers of any wrongdoing. The determined that the use of deadly force was warranted and that the amount of gunfire was not excessive.

According to the district attorney's report, Pena came to the door of his home with a rifle after officers knocked on the door and announced themselves.

He didn't respond to commands to drop the gun, and officers first fired when he moved the weapon "as if to shoulder it," the report states. After going back into his home, Pena came back onto the porch still holding the rifle and appeared to point it in the officers' direction, according to the report.

In his civil complaint, Pena said he had been sleeping when the officers knocked on his door. By the time he had awaken and got to the door no one was there.

Pena said he then grabbed a .22-caliber rife, thinking a predator had frightened his chickens and dogs, when he heard an officer yell that Pena had a gun and that shots were then fired.

Pena claims the officers never identified themselves.

174 Comments

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  • ladyblue Sep 23, 2009

    centurian thank you. i live in clayton and some of these comments are either out of ignorance of the facts or just careless thinking. we have a fine police force here.

  • thepeopleschamp Sep 23, 2009

    SME2, even if we all go with your brilliant idea of all officers learning to speak spanish, perhaps you can enlighten us where to take a class that teaches officers how to figure out what language a person speaks just by looking at them while they are holding a firearm.

  • 4wheelin Sep 23, 2009

    thats good, man comes to the door with rifle in hand and officers are cleared of any wrong doing except serching his yard and the judge awards him a half million dollars, way to go judge,with more judges like him pretty soon when you call for help the cops will show and just stand there and watch you get robbed or shot because they'll be scared of getting sued. storys like this make me sick !!!!! and to all you cop bashers i hope you never need any help and if so i hope you dont get it

  • NC Born Sep 23, 2009

    What should they have done "Professor"? Stopped trying to take the felon into custody? When the dog tracked across someone's yard they should have said "oh well, lets go home"? Or they should have spent 3 hours typing a search warrant to check his shed? I'm sure the felon would have waited for that. This stuff is done everyday and thankfully the vast majority of citizens understand that its for their safety and cooperate....let me guess "Professor", you are one of those that keeps driving in the left lane when a police car with blue lights/siren approaches instead of yielding to the right...you and those like you probably first assume the officer is trying to stop you for nothing instead of being able to think enough to see he is probably trying to get somewhere to help a person...thankfully the anti police are actually very few in number..except for the citizens with a chip on their shoulder.

  • superman Sep 23, 2009

    Hope they took the time to check his citizenship!

  • 5-113 FA Retired Sep 23, 2009

    16 shots fired? I'm suprized the cops were permitted to carry more than one bullet each.

  • Tired of thoughtlessness Sep 23, 2009

    Where is Journey??

  • RonnieR Sep 23, 2009

    Centurain, that has to do with an expectation of privacy in your home and curtledge. As small as his trailer lot was, the whole yard was probably in his curtledge, but surely the outbuildings were.

  • donedidit Sep 23, 2009

    Thank you Centurian, for some REAL information

  • RonnieR Sep 23, 2009

    Nothing wrong with the shooring at all. But the search had no basis in statute or case law.

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