Edwards Kirby Partners Cate Edwards and John Edwards recently secured a $1.2 million settlement from Rockingham County over the death of a local father of two who was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy in his driveway.
According to court records and a recent feature article in North Carolina Lawyers Weekly, the payout settled a pending lawsuit filed by the family of a Stoneville man who claim their loved one was the victim of excessive force and deadly force by the officers involved.
About the Case
As described in the civil lawsuit – which was litigated in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina – the incident occurred after midnight in May 2016 when the victim, Todd Burroughs, returned home with his family after attending a wedding. Two sheriff’s deputies, one of who was a trainee, had been conducting a security check on a local business when they spotted Burroughs in his truck, and subsequently followed him into his driveway.
After parking in his driveway, Burroughs stepped out of his vehicle while his family remained inside the truck, and asked the deputies why they were there. The deputies ordered him to get on the ground, but he refused and continued to ask the deputies why they had followed him into his driveway.
He did not get an answer.
During the altercation that ensued, Burroughs was struck by one of the deputies with a stun gun, pepper spray, and a baton. Burroughs was able to take the baton from the deputy and throw it to the ground. The deputies alleged Burroughs then picked up the baton and began walking toward one deputy – an allegation denied by Burroughs’ wife, who had exited the truck. One issue in the case was that, on audio recorded during the encounter, Burroughs could be heard using vulgar and aggressive language towards the officer.
According to court documents, it was at that point when one of the deputies fired shots at Burroughs, hitting him three times – twice in the chest, and once in the abdomen. While the same deputy was performing CPR on Burroughs’ body, the family’s dog ran from the porch. Claiming the dog was interfering with his efforts, the deputy fatally shot the dog.
Seeking Justice for a Family, Accountability of Public Officials
Todd Burroughs died that early May morning as the result of three gunshot wounds fired by a Rockland County Sheriff’s Deputy. As Cate Edwards tells Lawyers Weekly, the body camera worn by the deputy who shot Burroughs – Frank Martin – had not been turned on until late into the encounter, and that the footage that did exist was very dark.
While no criminal charges were brought against the deputies, the family filed a lawsuit against Deputy Frank Martin, Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page, and Liberty Mutual Insurance over federal deprivation of civil rights and wrongful death, claiming Martin’s use of deadly force was excessive and unauthorized. The other deputy at the scene, a trainee at the time, was dismissed from the claim.
Despite arguments that Martin and Page could not be sued due to qualified immunity – a legal doctrine that insulates government officials from facing legal action unless their conduct violated “clearly established” federal law or constitutional rights – the suit prevailed on summary judgment. A settlement was reached prior to a jury trial.
Though it arises from tragic circumstances, the $1.2 million settlement will provide some closure and accountability to the family, who agreed to the out-of-court settlement in lieu of trial, where empaneling a non-biased jury that does not favor law enforcement can be a significant challenge. As Cate Edwards notes:
“When you are confronted with a case involving law enforcement, you are always concerned about what the jury pool is going to think, because law enforcement officers protect and serve our community. There are a lot of difficult facts in this case that made it an uphill battle. The family is glad to have this chapter closed. And they are pleased with the result.”
Burroughs’s wife and two surviving children were represented by John Edwards and Cate Edwards, Partners at Edwards Kirby, as well as Mark L. Bibbs of Raleigh, who referred the case to our firm mid-litigation.
Edwards Kirby is a nationally recognized civil trial practice that’s secured record verdicts in complex cases across Raleigh and the state of North Carolina. Comprised of award-winning attorneys, our legal team represents clients in serious personal injury, wrongful death, employment law, and civil rights matters, and welcomes referrals from other attorneys who need assistance litigating complex claims – including those involving police brutality and officer-involved shootings, police and prosecutorial abuse, and wrongful incarceration.