Civil case against Norfolk officers moves forward

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The civil case against two Norfolk officers is moving forward, as family members of a man killed during an officer-involved shooting last year say they’re seeking justice.

Last week, federal judge Raymond Jackson denied a motion by the two officers to have the case dismissed.

Friends of Joshua “Omar” Johnson’s family were encouraged by the ruling: “It’s a step toward getting some type of justice,” said Kevin Mills, who was a coach and mentor for Johnson when he was a teen playing basketball and learning to be a barber.

Document: Federal Judge Ruling

Benjamin Newsome, Johnson’s father, filed the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their family after his 22-year-old son was killed last May at the drive-through of the Wells Fargo Bank on Colonial Avenue in Ghent. Johnson is accused of trying to cash a stolen check, and police documents say an officer fired his weapon at Johnson’s car as he backed out of the drive-through, toward another officer.

The lawsuit, filed February 4 in Norfolk, claims Johnson was killed by the “excessive and unreasonable use of deadly force.” It alleges Johnson’s rights under the fourth amendment were violated.

The Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney ruled last September the use of deadly force was justified, clearing officers Matthew Watson and Mathew Wilson of criminal charges. That’s when Johnson’s family filed the lawsuit against the officers for $7 million.

The officers tried to have the lawsuit thrown out, but Judge Jackson ruled in favor of Johnson’s family. Jackson’s 11-page opinion on the case contains the following:

The Court concludes that Plaintiff has provided sufficient factual allegations to establish that Officer Williams acted in concert with Officer Watson. Moreover, the Court finds that Plaintiff has established that immediately before and during the shooting it may have been objectively unreasonable for an officer at the scene to emerge from the bank building to stand near an arrestees’ vehicle as did Officer Williams. Likewise, Plaintiff has established that Officer Williams knew or should have known that Johnson would reverse his vehicle toward where he stood and Officer Watson would react with excessive force. The Second Amended Complaint satisfies its burden of alleging that Officer Williams, either individually or in concert, engaged in conduct immediately before and during the shooting that is causally connected to Officer Watson’s allegedly excessive force and unreasonable seizure. Plaintiff pleads facts for his claim against Officer Williams to survive dismissal.

Michael Muhammad was in touch with Johnson’s parents on Monday.

“I spoke with both father and mother, and they were elated to know that the fight is still on, and that there is a glimmer of hope that we will achieve a measure of justice for Omar,” Muhammad said.

Neither Norfolk police nor the City Attorney’s Office would comment on the ruling that allows the case to go to trial. Johnson’s family attorney, John Cooper, said he hopes that a trial date will be set for spring or early summer 2015.

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