Federal Judge Jack Zouhary wants to understand why Sandusky County Sheriff’s deputies used a flash bang device when they entered the Jones family’s home to confront Bryan Jones.
The judge also wants to know if there’s evidence that Jones, 26, was truly a threat when deputies got inside the home and fatally shot him.
Zouhary’s questions contrast sharply with federal magistrate James Knepp’s Dec. 7 decision to consider only the events that occurred in the few seconds once the deputies were inside the family’s living room.
Knepp recommended the dismissal of a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit the family filed against the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office and the deputies who shot and killed Jones.
“This is what makes this case unusual. This is not a situation where police arrive at a scene and it is a split-second decision,” Zouhary said at a hearing in Toledo this week. “Here we have an hour and a half where he is making no threatening movement and there is no evidence he is aware officers are present in his home.”
Jones’ parents called deputies to the home on July 11, 2010, after he threatened to shoot his mother.
He’d been on a two-day drinking binge, but he was lying on a couch in the living room — a shotgun in his lap — when deputies arrived.
An autopsy later revealed he had cocaine in his system.
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Authorities were at the scene for more than an hour before Sheriff Kyle Overmyer decided to let a four-man tactical team enter the home, a detective’s report said.
Teresa Grigsby, the attorney representing Sandusky County and its deputies, argued that Jones was a threat and deputies were justified in fatally shooting him.
“He would have been an immediate threat the hour and a half they were at the scene?” Zouhary asked.
“Yes, he was an immediate threat,” Grigsby said. “He was a threat to anyone close to the home, and when he entered the home he had a gun on his lap and a finger on the trigger.”
Dennis Murray Sr., the attorney representing the Jones family, immediately countered that argument.
“He was passed out an hour and a half by himself,” Murray said. “He was a threat to no one after all deputies had surrounded the home and were peering into the windows for an hour and a half.”
The four deputies quietly entered the home and moved to within 6 feet of Jones before throwing a flash bang in front of him. Deputies Mario and Jose Calvillo, who are brothers, fired the fatal shots.
Murray said choosing to use the flash bang device was a bad tactical maneuver that resulted in Bryan being startled out of a stupor.
Grigsby said the use of the flash bang should not be considered as part of the discussions of the department’s use of force. The flash bang, she said, is a valid diversionary device that is not a use of force.
Zouhary asked her if, under the circumstances, it was not a poor decision to use the device.
“Might it be more dangerous if he is asleep, in all indications in an alcohol stupor, and startling him with it?” Zouhary asked.
After two hours of rapid-fire questioning, Zouhary ended the hearing.
He plans to make a decision about whether to accept Knepp’s recommendation to dismiss the case, or to rule for the Jones family that the sheriff’s office acted unreasonably and violated Jones’ civil rights.
If he issues the latter ruling, the case would go before a jury to decide a monetary award for the family.
Either party could appeal the decision.
After the hearing, the Jones family said they felt Zouhary took the opportunity to listen to them.
“What he heard today was more to what happened that night,” said Kim Jones, Bryan’s mother.