Judge tosses civil rights lawsuit over Jacksonville Wendy's shooting

Ruling holds police did not breach rights of carjacking victim shot by officers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A federal judge has thrown out a civil rights lawsuit against the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office filed by a local mother whose family was wounded by a barrage of police gunfire during a carjacking.

Joann Cooper sued the Sheriff's Office after the March 2010 shooting, saying the officers involved were poorly trained and contending they violated her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

But after seven years of legal back-and-forth, U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger dismissed the complaint, concluding Cooper had no constitutional grounds to press forward with the case.

Bill Sheppard, an attorney who represents Cooper, told News4Jax his client plans to appeal the ruling and will take it as far as it needs to go. 

Police were answering a bank robbery call on Baymeadows Road when they spotted the suspect, Jeremiah Mathis, trying to hijack Cooper’s car at gunpoint at a nearby drive-thru, and several officers opened fire.

Cooper was shot in the shoulder, hand and foot and her 2-year-old son was wounded in the arm and chest, but both survived. Officers later shot and killed Mathis a short distance away as he fled the vehicle.

Two officers, Ryan Black and Darries Griffith, accounted for 30 of the 42 rounds fired during the incident. They both resigned in October 2010 following an internal investigation.

In his Nov. 15 order, Schlesinger acknowledged the challenges of the case, particularly the chaotic circumstances that required officers to make split-second decisions: "It was a minor miracle that the aggressor...was the only one who perished."

But, Schlesinger noted, the constitution "does not provide a remedy for every tragedy, nor is it implicated every time a law enforcement officer injures an innocent bystander."

The judge wrote constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure and deprivation of liberty did not apply, saying it was a matter of accidental effects of otherwise lawful government conduct -- not misuse of power.

In reaching that conclusion, Schlesinger cited case law that held "a bystander or hostage suffers no violation of his or her constitutional rights when injured in the course of a police response to a rapidly developing crime in the absence of an intent by police to harm the person who is injured."

Read the entire order below:

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