JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 21-year-old man shot in the leg by a Jacksonville police officer last year filed a lawsuit this week against the city and Sheriff Mike Williams. It is the second lawsuit in recent weeks over a shooting by an officer of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Criss Coleman claims that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office failed to property train the officer who used excessive force and violated his civil rights when he shot Coleman Feb. 13. Police said Coleman ran from them when officers arrived at the scene of a double shooting on the Northside.
Police said that during their investigation, Coleman drove past two officers in a car that matched the description of the suspect car they were looking for. A five-minute police chase ensued before Coleman stopped. When he got out of the car and ran, Officer M.L. Hice shot four times, hitting Coleman once in the leg.
The officer has said that he saw Coleman holding a gun and a gun was found at the scene. But Coleman’s lawyer, Ted Pina, disputes that the gun belonged to his client.
“Coleman was fleeing away from the officer and was not armed," the lawsuit claims, adding that he was running because he was "scared by the presence of police."
"There was a gun found at the scene. It was some distance from where our client was. It was a ditch area. The gun was empty, had no magazine, covered in dirt and mud. We don’t know how long that gun could’ve been lying there," Pina said. "There was no reason for the officer to fear for his safety and there was no one else around."
A review by the State Attorney’s Office found that Hice’s shooting of Coleman was justifiable. Its report says, “Despite repeated commands to stop, Coleman, still armed with a handgun, jumped a fence into a ditch behind the residence.”
Coleman was charged in the shooting and pleaded no contest to resisting an officer without violence and openly carrying a weapon.
Pina pointed out that a plea of “no contest” is not an admission of guilt and they stand by their story that Coleman did not have a gun.
Coleman claims he had nothing to do with the double shooting, and he was never charged with anything in connection with that case.
The lawsuit was originally filed in state court but it has now been moved to federal court because it deals with the violation of civil rights. Pina said that was a move by the city of Jacksonville to change venue.
News4Jax asked JSO for comment and was told they would not, pending the ongoing litigation.
This is the second lawsuit Pina has filed for a client suing the city over a police-involved shooting in recent weeks. The family of Keandre Alston, who was shot and killed by an officer in 2015, filed suit against the city last month.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said Coleman put himself in a dangerous position by running and not following police orders.
"Depends on a person’s relationship with law enforcement," Smith said. "But still, a police officer saying stop, and he’s not involved in a crime, then most people are going to stop. Now, that just makes the situation much worse."