The family of a man fatally shot in the head by a Cleveland policeman was awarded $5.5 million on Tuesday by a federal jury in a civil case that found the officer liable for using excessive force.
The decision comes more than a year after the county prosecutor cleared the officer, Roger Jones, of criminal wrongdoing in the March 2012 shooting of Kenneth Smith after a disturbance outside a downtown nightspot.
The Smith family’s attorney, Terry Gilbert, said the 20-year-old Euclid man “did not deserve to die this way” and that the jury’s decision means it recognized that Jones acted improperly.
“This officer committed a horrible act by shooting Kenny Smith in the head,” Gilbert said. “It was completely unjustifiable.”
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Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty had concluded that Smith was lunging for a gun and that the off-duty officer fired to protect others, but Smith’s family questioned that account and suggested he was shot when he was outside the car he’d been riding in — and away from a gun later found in the vehicle, the Northeast Ohio Media Group reported.
A spokesman for the city, which represented Jones, said the litigation was still ongoing and declined to comment.
The jury awarded $4.5 million in wrongful death damages and an additional $1 million for survivorship damages, according to the court.
Smith’s mother, Shauna Smith, told the media group she felt she had gotten justice.
“I really didn’t feel like the story was told, and that’s all that I wanted, for the story to be told. To hear how things happened,” she said.
Smith’s death occurred several years before the U.S. Department of Justice issued an investigative report that said Cleveland police officers too often use excessive force and violate people’s rights. A federal judge has since approved what is hoped to be a landmark agreement between Cleveland and the DOJ to reform the city’s troubled police department.