A man who suffered a fractured skull, brain bleeding and permanent brain damage during a 2008 altercation with police outside the Baton Rouge River Center has agreed to settle his excessive-force lawsuit against the police officer who knocked him out.
Jon Leigh Shoulders’ civil rights suit was scheduled for trial Sept. 21 in Baton Rouge federal court, but court documents show a deal was reached Tuesday at a settlement conference in Lafayette.
Shoulders would be paid $350,000 under the agreement, a far cry from the $5 million the suit sought. The payment is subject to East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council approval.
The Parish Attorney’s Office, which had a representative at the settlement conference, declined to discuss the agreement. New Orleans lawyer Frederick T. Haas III, who attended the conference on Shoulders’ behalf, did not respond to requests for comment.
The settlement came four months after a federal appellate court in New Orleans refused to throw out the case against Baton Rouge police Officer Lorenzo Coleman, who remains on the force.
Shoulders, according to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, was attending a concert in July 2008 that included rap star Snoop Dogg when Coleman and other undercover narcotics officers witnessed Shoulders smoking marijuana inside the River Center.
Coleman and another officer removed Shoulders from the arena in order to issue him a misdemeanor summons for smoking marijuana.
Coleman instructed Shoulders to stand with his hands on the roof of a police car while he wrote the summons, the appeals court said. Shoulders removed his hands from the car at one point, and Coleman told him to put his hands back on the car, which Shoulders did.
Coleman, before he finished writing the summons, allegedly saw Shoulders moving toward him with fists clenched. Coleman struck Shoulders on the back of his neck with the edge of his right hand, causing Shoulders to lose consciousness, fall and hit his head on the pavement, the 5th Circuit said.
Shoulders filed suit a year later against multiple defendants but eventually dismissed his claims against all but Coleman.
Coleman argued to U.S. District Judge James Brady that his actions that night in response to Shoulders were reasonable. Coleman said he “reasonably perceived himself to be in danger of receiving an imminent physical attack.”
Brady, however, found that the officer “used an extremely strong level of force to combat the least-serious level of resistance.” The judge said Coleman’s actions were disproportionate to Shoulders’ actions.
It is undisputed, the 5th Circuit noted, that Shoulders did not throw a punch.
While both sides have agreed to settle the case, court documents reveal there is much disagreement over some of the actions that occurred that night.
For example, an August 2013 court filing by the Parish Attorney’s Office says that, when the officers and Shoulders exited the River Center, Shoulders stumbled and lost a sandal “while simultaneously tossing a bag of marijuana away.”
But in a September 2013 filing, Haas says a report filled out by Coleman only hours after the incident states that Shoulders’ slipper came off and he was putting it back on when Coleman observed Shoulders drop a clear plastic bag of marijuana.
“As written, the Police Report makes no attempt to establish intent to hide the bag of marijuana on the part of Shoulders,” Haas argues in his filing.
Haas also contends the written report did not establish that Shoulders took his hands off the car before the incident.
Coleman stated in a deposition that he saw Shoulders moving quickly toward him with clenched fists, like he was ready to fight.
Haas countered in court documents that Coleman’s report does not say Shoulders acted quickly or suddenly. “Further, the Police Report only mentions one ‘fist’ being clenched,” he said.
Coleman’s deposition testimony established that Shoulders did not hit or attempt to hit the officer, Haas argued.
Genuine issues of material fact existed, Haas argued in September 2013, as to whether Shoulders was “ready to fight or going to attack Coleman” and whether Shoulders acted in a “threatening manner justifying a potentially deadly force response.”
The Parish Attorney’s Office wrote in its August 2013 filing that Coleman considered his actions a reasonable response to stop the threat he perceived based on the “sudden hostile, threatening actions of Mr. Shoulders.”
Shoulders was issued a misdemeanor summons for possession of marijuana, simple assault and disturbing the peace by intoxication, according to court documents. He was later formally charged with those offenses in City Court.
In 2010, he was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation following a no-contest plea to marijuana possession.