On January 14, 2014, Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr., a 30-year-old black father of three, was fatally shot by a white sheriff’s deputy in St. Lucie County, Florida. The deputy was responding to a noise complaint about music coming from Hill’s garage.
Four years later, a federal jury has determined that Hill was largely responsible for his own death, awarding the man’s family just $4 in a wrongful death lawsuit.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Hill’s fiancée, Monique Davis, told the New York Times. “There are a lot of questions I want to ask.”
The decision is the culmination of a two-year legal battle for the family. Officers have claimed that Hill was armed at the time of the shooting; while a gun was recovered from the scene, it was found unloaded in Hill’s back pocket. In 2016, Hill’s mother, Viola Bryant, filed a lawsuit arguing that the deputy had violated Hill’s constitutional rights. The New York Times notes that the case also asked the jury to determine if the family was owed damages and, if so, what amount they should receive.
The jury determined that $4 — $1 to Hill’s mother for funeral expenses and $1 for each of Hill’s three children — would be enough. The decision came after hours of jury deliberations, and the amount was so small because the jury ruled that Hill, who was intoxicated at the time of the shooting, was mostly responsible for his death.
While the jury ruled that the deputy who shot Hill did not use excessive force, it did find that the county sheriff had been “slightly negligent.” But because the jury found the sheriff responsible for only 1 percent of the incident, the department will only be required to pay 1 percent of the settlement, which comes out to 4 cents.
A judge is expected to void that fee, according to the family’s lawyer.
In some ways, Hill’s case is unsurprising. Officers are rarely prosecuted for police shootings, at least partly because they’re given wide latitude to use deadly force. But it also comes at a time when national attention is highly focused on large racial disparities in police use of force. And Hill’s case stands out for the meager amount awarded to his family, which they view as an insult.
Hill’s family says he was the victim of excessive force, but a jury disagreed
The New York Times reports that Hill, a 30-year old Coca-Cola warehouse employee, was in his garage at the time of the shooting. Deputies were called to his home after a woman picking a child up from a nearby elementary school complained of loud music coming from his garage.
When the deputies arrived, they knocked on the garage door. Hill raised the garage door but then closed it after seeing police. A deputy then shot through the door four times as it closed, hitting Hill once in the head and twice in the abdomen. He was found dead four hours later after a SWAT team came to the home.
The verdict has outraged Hill’s family. “Why go there with the $1? That was the hurtful part,” John Phillips, the family’s lawyer, said of the jury. On May 29, Phillips set up a GoFundMe in the hopes of raising money for Hill’s children and to cover repairs for home damages caused by the SWAT team.
Help us tell his story. Help us help his kids who the jury awarded $1 to. His daughter saw everything from across the street. Police have repeatedly change the story. https://t.co/lC51NZiJFF— John M. Phillips (@JohnPhillips) May 31, 2018
“That a black child’s pain is only worth a dollar is exactly the problem with the plight of the African-American right now. This says, black lives don’t matter,” Phillips told CNN.
But local officers have praised the decision. “We are pleased to see this difficult and tragic incident come to a conclusion,” St. Lucie Sheriff Ken Mascara wrote in a May 24 Facebook post.
“We appreciate the jury’s time and understanding and wish everyone involved in this case the best as they move forward,” the post concluded.
Hill’s family plans to appeal the jury’s decision. “I’m going to keep fighting until I get some justice,” Davis, Hill’s fiancée, told the Times. “That’s the only way I’m going to get peace.”