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.”

— Contact Evan Goodenow at egoodenow@winchesterstar.com

(18) comments

jwbbud

looks like the odds of getting paid are slimming down. ultimately thats why the lawyers are here....

Jasba64

Why do liberals never understand the law? Do you really believe that the police officers weren't vetted from this based on evidence?

toridzone

My thinking is, If the officers did not shoot their weapon, and only used the taser. Maybe the victim had his finger on the trigger, and when he was tased your body normally tenses up from the volts of electricity, which in turn caused him to pull the trigger unintentionally. They need to look at that scenerio.

August West

Couldn't they have simply done ballistics tests on the bullet and easily confirm whether it was a .38 or a 9mm/.40 whatever WPD carries? It seems like that would have made it crystal clear

kcinva

How does someone shoot himself in the back of the head?

Conservative

Where did you read that he shot himself in the back of the head?

4tham

from the medical examiner report and pictures

4tham

great question

Joe Crane

Independent investigation conducted by the VA State Police was conclusive. Case closed.

4tham

Of course Joe. Too bad Judge Urbanski has looked at the evidence the City and this newspaper is withholding from you -- and determined the case is NOT CLOSED.

slowe

It does seem odd and perhaps unbelievable , that the victim would have shot himself , much less in the back of the head!!

Conservative

There you go, making up lies. It wasn't in the back of his head. His momma just wants some money and likes showing an early picture of him looking so angelic. Truth is, he was a punk thug, a career criminal, and he was a coward. Good riddance. He was of no use to society.

Valerie78

your lack of humanity is gross. i see right through your 'momma just wants some money' comment so i know where this animosity truly stems from. a shame, but on the bright side - you're not judge or jury. pitiful that you think a grieving mother showing a picture of the child she loves and misses is suspect. i hope your own momma loved you enough growing up, though i'd have to guess not or else you wouldn't have turned out so hateful.

Spock Here

"He was of no use to society". From a guy who advocates shooting people crossing the border no less. What else do you expect from the current cultists?

Conservative

And your lack of common sense is amazing. In previous articles about the case, his mother was quoted as saying she shipped him to Winchester to keep him from the trouble he was getting into in Petersburg. She sent her problems here, knowing what kind of trouble he was. She sent him away. Then she tries to make him look like a little angel using old pictures of him instead of the punk he turned out to be. She blames others for her mistakes. She's after money, plain and simple, and she's using her dead son to try and get it. She's just as disgusting as her son.

4tham

What is of no use to society is police officers who are improperly trained to chase people who were not involved in an incident over 1/2 (half a mile) away from where they discovered Mr. Minifield whom I might add did not fit the description, was not with the individuals who were part of some sort of operation going on over at Roosevelt Blvd. Side Note: Depositions happened today Conservative. Guess what? Counsel for the city asked for an emergency continuance today most likely because they will be withdrawing from the case and seeking their own legal counsel now.

4tham

In previous articles -- the Winchester Police Department was quoted saying in a press release to the Winchester Star (the first press release) that the officers lost sight of Mr. Minifield; and while they were searching for him -- the officers heard a gunshot and discovered Mr. Minifield's body SEVERAL MINUTES later. Those statements have significantly changed over time after the eye witnesses came forward Mr. Conservative. The new narrative is they had Mr. Minifield at gun point laying face down; and that Mr. Minifield refused to show his hands at which point Minifield brandished a firearm, turned his head to the left and shot himself in the back of his head. However the bullet was found in the opposite direction 3 days after the crime scene had been abandoned. Further -- in the coming days we will see why Sanzenbacher and Tony Williams both stepped down which had nothing to do with retirements or knew jobs. It was 100% damage control for the city. I expect police officers will be indicted federally. I certainly hope Sanzenbacher is federally fried for his conduct.

4tham

He was of no use to your racist society. They chased the wrong guy but God forbid you consider that fact pattern. He was not a suspect. This is not disputed in the civil rights case ongoing right now.

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