WINCHESTER — Whether a civil lawsuit filed by a mother who accuses Winchester police of killing her son goes to trial could come down to statements by two witnesses in a deposition next week.
The prospect of a trial in federal court in Harrisonburg dimmed Wednesday when Judge Michael F. Urbanski dismissed the city of Winchester and police Sgt. Christopher Eric Ivins from the lawsuit brought by Jacqueline Minifield, mother of D’Londre Minfield. The amended suit, which seeks $5 million in damages, contends that either Ivins or Officer Stephanie Nan Sills shot Minifield in the back of the head as he climbed a chain-link fence behind the Grace Community Church at 2333 Roosevelt Blvd. on Feb. 28, 2016. Sills remains accused in the civil suit of using excessive force and causing a wrongful death
State police, who investigated the shooting to avoid Winchester police investigating their own officers, concluded Minifield shot himself in the head with a stolen pistol while lying on his stomach. They said the snub-nosed .38 caliber revolver was stolen from an unlocked vehicle in Frederick County in 2015.
In a legal brief earlier this month asking that the trial be held, attorney Christopher E. Brown, who represents Jacqueline Minfield, cited statements by witnesses Kelly Michelle Grafton and Alliyah Green that they saw Minifield pulled from the fence by police after hearing a gunshot. Urbanski wrote that he would consider their sworn testimony in the deposition on Wednesday before deciding whether the jury trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 5, occurs. Their statements contradict the officers’ account.
Ivins and Sills officers said they had Minifield cornered when he pulled out the pistol while laying in the prone position after slipping in the snow. Minifield, whose criminal record included malicious wounding and robbery convictions, ran from police as they sought to question a man he was walking with about a fight that may have involved a gun.
In dismissing Ivins from the suit, Urbanski wrote that Brown alleged it was Sills who shot Minifield. Sills — then a rookie cop being trained by Ivins — admitted to firing a Taser at Minifield, but both she and Ivins denied shooting him. In dismissing the city from the suit, Urbanski rejected Brown’s contention that the police department failed to properly train officers in the use of force. Urbanski wrote that there were numerous written police department guidelines regarding when officers are allowed to use force and there is mandatory training and refresher courses on the subject.
Urbanski also cited the 1989 Canton v. Harris U.S. Supreme Court decision in which a woman sued police in Canton, Ohio, for not promptly providing her with medical attention. Urbanski quoted a part of the decision which said, “That a particular officer may be unsatisfactorily trained will not alone suffice to fasten liability on the city.”
Attorney Julia. B. Judkins, who represents the officers and the city, has asked Urbanski to dismiss the case. She said on Thursday that ballistics testing showed none of the officers in the chase fired their guns.
“This case should be thrown out,” Judkins said. “This is a waste of taxpayer money, big time, to go through this exercise in futility.”
But Brown said he’s confident the case will be tried because testimony from Grafton and Green will be consistent with what they told state police.
“I know they’re going to say what they (previously) said,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we will have a chance to get justice for this family.”