Judge dismisses part of civil rights lawsuit against City of Laurel

Judge dismisses part of civil rights lawsuit against City of Laurel
James Barnett claims he was beaten by officers with the Laurel Police Department on May 16 in Jasper County. (Source: WDAM)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A district court judge has granted and denied in part Laurel’s motion to dismiss a civil complaint against the city. On May 24, James Barnett filed the complaint after alleging police brutality against officers with the Laurel Police Department.

Attorney Dow Yoder filed the complaint for civil rights violations and damages on behalf of the 36-year-old. Barnett alleges that on May 16, Wade Robertson and Bryce Gilbert brutally beat him after he fled from a checkpoint and into Jasper County.

After Yoder filed an amended complaint on July 3, the City of Laurel filed a motion to dismiss it on Aug. 1. Documents filed on Sept. 5 show that the court denied Barnett’s state law claims as “moot”, because he failed to include any in his motion.

“Although, Plaintiff referred to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act in his Amended complaint, he did not assert any state law claims.”

The court agreed that the City of Laurel is “exempt” from paying Barnett punitive damages. Additionally, Barnett cannot recover punitive damages from either Bryce Gilbert and Wade Robertson in their official capacities. Gilbert and Wade were fired from the department on May 21 following an internal investigation into the allegations of police brutality by Barnett.

“A municipality is immune from punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983… moreover, “an official-capacity claim is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the government entity.”

In response to Barnett’s request for declaratory and injunctive relief, the court denied that aspect of the city’s motion adding that it could not determine whether future injuries are likely.

“The court will deny this aspect of the Defendant’s motion without prejudice to Defendant’s right to raise the issue again after Plaintiff’s claims have been clarified through discovery.”

On Sept. 19, attorney Brett Robinson filed a response to the amended complaint on behalf of the city and both officers after initially filing one on July 3. Both officers contend that Barnett’s actions are a result of his injuries and the outcome of events that took place in the early hours of May 16.

“The defendant specifically pleads Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-9(1)© provides that a governmental entity and its employees acting within the course and scope of their employment or duties shall not be liable for any claims rising out of any act or omission of an employee of a governmental entity engaged in the performance or execution of duties or activities relating to police or fire protection unless the employee acted in reckless disregard of the safety and well-being of any person not engaged in criminal activity at the time of injury.”

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