“Obviously we’re pleased with the verdict,” said Bill Blair, an attorney for Howard. “Our hearts go out to the Case family.”
Jill Griffith, Case’s mother, left the courtroom sobbing in the arms of a loved one.
“The pain she feels today is a small piece of how she’s felt for years,” said Steven Sherlag, her attorney.
Case, 20, was killed after a series of events Oct. 21. The warehouse worker had ingested a large amount of hallucinogenic mushrooms and was completely out of control, according to attorneys for both sides.
Living in an apartment complex in Tualatin, he walked into the unlocked unit of a neighbor that he didn’t know and started moving his hand above her body as if trying to feel her aura.
The woman barricaded herself in the bedroom of her 8-year-old daughter and called 9-1-1. Case forced his way in and they scuffled as police converged on the apartment building.
Officers chased down the 128-pound distance runner, jolted him with a Taser and hit him with beanbag rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun. Howard, who was called to the scene with two other deputies, also fired his .40-caliber Glock handgun, hitting Case in the left side. Case sat down, then got up and came toward Howard’s patrol car, which had the door open and an MP5 submachine gun on a rack inside.
That’s when Howard fired the fatal shot, hitting Case in the back of the head.
The jury was asked to decide whether that fatal shot amounted to excessive force.
U.S. District Judge Garr King, who presided over the trial in Portland, told the jurors that police officers are allowed to use deadly force if there is “a fair probability that the suspect poses a threat of harm or will flee and carry out harm.” He said in making their decision they needed to consider whether Case posed an immediate threat and whether he was actively resisting arrest.
In his closing argument, Blair described a tense situation that required a split-second decision. He said Howard knew there was a home invasion, that a woman and her child were involved, that the suspect was intoxicated, that there had been a foot chase and that Tasers and beanbag rounds had not been effective. He said when Case got up after being shot in the left side and moved toward the police car, it appeared clear that he was going for the submachine gun.
“Letting him get to the MP5 was not an option,” Blair said. “The only decision that Deputy Howard had left was a shot to the head.”
But lawyers for Case’s family presented a different point of view. Before the jury left to deliberate, Sherlag told them that Howard was not focused on trying to bring Case under control. He said the deputy was angry that his shots did not subdue the young man and angry that Case was not obeying his orders.
Obedience, Sherlag said, was impossible for someone so intoxicated.
“Jordan Case wasn’t there,” Sherlag said. “He needed to be rescued.”
The Case family asked for $10 million in noneconomic damages and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.
But the weight of proof rested with the plaintiffs.
“Please understand that the burden is on the plaintiff,” Blair told the jury. “You cannot use 20-20 hindsight.”
After both sides left the courtroom, the jury filtered out of the judge’s chambers, declining to discuss the verdict.
Sherlag said the family will decide in the next few days whether to appeal.
READ – Federal jury deadlocks on whether Washington County Deputy Glenn Howard used excessive force in shooting Jordan Case, Oregonian May 4, 2010