Local News

Jury rules in favor of man shot by Clayton police officers

Posted September 22, 2009 3:39 p.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2009 7:07 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.