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Date: 05-29-2024

Case Style:

Julie Huff, et al. v. City of Eufaula, et al.

Case Number: 6:18-CV-22

Judge: Eric F. Melgren

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma (Muskogee County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: Brad Wicker, J. Derek Ingle, and Lloyd K. Benedict

Defendant's Attorney: Drew A. Lagow, Grace Dawkins, and James R. Cowdery for City of Eufaula

Richard N. Mann, Charles A. Dickson, III, Devan A. Pederson, Evan James Edler, Gary J. James, Jeb E. Joseph, Kari Y. Hawkins for Christopher Reeves

Allison Levine, Chris J. Collins, Jamison C. Whitson, and Wellon B. Poe for Kevin Ledbetter, et al.


Muskogee, Oklahoma personal injury lawyers Brad Wicker, J. Derek Ingle, and Lloyd K. Benedict represented the Plaintiff who sued the Defendants on civil rights violation theories under 42 U.S.C. 1983.

42 U.S.C. 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.

On January 21, 2016, Cedric Norris robbed a bank in Eufaula, Oklahoma. Norris shot and killed the bank president, and fled the scene with a hostage, Plaintiff Julie Huff. Norris forced Plaintiff to drive at gunpoint, but the vehicle was subsequently found and stopped by law enforcement officers, including Oklahoma Highway Trooper Chris Reeves. In the ensuing shootout, the officers killed Norris. But they also shot Plaintiff multiple times. Plaintiff subsequently sued the officers involved, the City of Eufaula and its Chief of Police, and McIntosh County Sheriff Kevin Ledbetter.

Following an extensive procedural history, the only remaining claim is Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim that Defendant Reeves' actions violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The matter is now before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 245), two Motions to Exclude Expert Witnesses by Defendant (Docs. 139, 140), and Plaintiff's request for a contempt citation. (Doc. 123). The Court grants the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as provided herein, and denies the remaining motions.

According to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, Norris entered the Bank of Eufaula and immediately shot and killed the bank president. Brandishing his gun, Norris grabbed cash from one of the tellers, and approached another bank employee and demanded that she accompany him as a hostage. When she refused, Norris shot her in the abdomen, and also shot at another employee who tried to intervene. Norris then demanded that Plaintiff, a bank customer, drive his vehicle, which he had stolen earlier.

The getaway vehicle was subsequently stopped by law enforcement officers including Highway Patrolman Reeves, Eufaula Police Officer Casey Torix, and McIntosh Sheriff's office deputies. Plaintiff states that she “exited the vehicle and began running into a nearby field,” while Norris exchanged fire with the officers. “Norris then caught up to [Plaintiff] and put his arm around her neck and began using her as a human shield. He held her in front of him, in full view of law enforcement personnel.” Although the officers could see she was a hostage, “they continued to fire their weapons [and] literally shot through an innocent hostage . . . in an effort to kill Mr. Norris.” Plaintiff was struck approximately nine times by the officers. Plaintiff alleges that the officers “had sufficient time to focus on their target before pulling the trigger and deliberate whether to shoot at or through the hostage.”

In his April 6, 2016 summary of his investigation, the local District Attorney found that after the vehicle was stopped, both Norris and Plaintiff exited and moved into an open field. Norris used Plaintiff as a human shield while shooting at the Troopers. The officers, according to the District Attorney, returned fire “to protect themselves and eliminate the deadly force threat that Norris was creating.” The officers' gunfire killed Norris, but “Ms. Huff also received multiple gunshot wounds.” The District Attorney concluded that the officers “faced an armed person that they had had probable cause to believe had murdered one person, shot another, and robed a Bank at gunpoint,” and that the Troopers were justified in their use of force pursuant to 21 O.S. § 733(2)(a) and (b).

In the present § 1983 action, Plaintiff brought claims against Trooper Reeves for violation of her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. She also sued Sheriff Ledbetter for failing to train his deputies.

The Court granted summary judgment to both Defendants on March 4, 2020. The Court ruled Defendant Reeves was not liable because he did not shoot Plaintiff intentionally. And Defendant Ledbetter was not liable because Plaintiff had not shown a predicate constitutional violation by one of any county deputy, and had failed to identify any specific training deficiency related to the alleged violation.

Plaintiff appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Fourteenth Amendment claim against Trooper Reeves and the failure-to-train claim against the Sheriff. However, the court reversed the dismissal of the Fourth Amendment claim, finding that there was an issue of fact whether Reeves intended to shoot Plaintiff.

The court observed that the Defendant would not be liable “if the evidence established that Trooper Reeves was shooting only at Norris and the wounds to Ms. Huff were just ‘the unfortunate . . . accidental effects of otherwise lawful conduct.' ”But “[i]f [he] intentionally shot Ms. Huff (perhaps because he thought she was implicated in the robbery and murder)” he would not be protected by qualified immunity.”The court concluded that there was evidence that would support a conclusion that the Trooper intentionally shot Plaintiff, noting both the number of times she was stuck by bullets (10 times, against the 4 times Norris was hit) and Plaintiff's statement that she exited the vehicle and approached the Troopers with her hands up, and thus posed no reasonable threat. “Perhaps Reeves reasonably viewed the situation otherwise, viewing her as an accomplice to murder who was shooting at him. But that is a question for the jury.”

Outcome: Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment was granted.

Settled for an undisclosed sum and dismissed with prejudice.

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