In January of 2007, officers of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office set up an undercover drug sting by posing as drug dealers near the home of 80 year old Isaac Singletary. Mr. Singletary, carrying a gun, confronted what he thought were actual drug dealers and demanded that they get off of his property. Gunfire erupted and Mr. Singletary was killed.
Mr. Singletary’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville alleging that the officers acted improperly and violated his civil rights. The attorneys for the City of Jacksonville have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The Court has yet to rule on the motion.
Civil rights lawsuits are complicated cases which are usually filed in federal court. In order to prevail, the plaintiff will typically have to prove the victim’s loss was the result of a policy or custom of a city or county. Often, the city will defend such cases on the grounds that the action taken was the result of a split second decision by an officer and not the result of any policy or custom.
If a simple mistake is made by an officer and the mistake is not attributable to a policy or custom then the case is likely a simple negligence case and not a civil rights case. The downside to this is that the City of Jacksonville, like all Florida municipalities, has a statutory limitation of liability of $100,000.00 per claimant and $200,000.00 per incident for negligence claims. Federal civil rights cases have no such limit.