Burton v. Waller

Citation502 F.2d 1261
Decision Date18 October 1974
Docket NumberNo. 72-2311,72-2311
PartiesMyrtle Green BURTON, Individually and in her Capacity as Representative of James Earl Green, Deceased, et al., Plaintiff-Appellants. v. William L. WALLER, Individually and as Governor of the State of Mississippi,et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)

Ralph L. McAfee, Robert F. Mullen, Andrew P. Tashman, Wayne A. Cross, New York City, for Burton and others.

George Peach Taylor, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Constance Iona Slaughter, James M. Abram, Jackson, Miss., Dale Broeder, Lake Oswego, Or., James Reif, Jackson, Miss., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Robert G. Nichols, Jr., Rufus Creekmore, John E. Stone, Jackson, Miss., for Davis and others.

William A. Allain, Asst. Atty. Gen., A. F. Summer, Atty. Gen. of Miss., Charles A. Marx, Jackson, Miss., for Highway Patrol, Williams and others.

Robert E. Hauberg, U.S. Atty., Joseph E. Brown, Jr., Asst. U.S. Atty., Jackson, Miss. for F.B.I.

Roger Googe, Jr., Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Jackson, Miss., for defendants-appellees.

Before JONES, GODBOLD and INGRAHAM, Circuit Judges.

GODBOLD, Circuit Judge:

This is a civil suit seeking recovery of damages for the deaths of two black persons and injuries to three others from gunshot wounds suffered on the campus on Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi, on the night of May 15, 1970. These five persons, plus at least nine other blacks who were wounded but are not parties to the suit, were struck by gunfire laid down by a detachment of officers who were on the campus as a result of student disorders.

The law enforcement detachment from which the gunfire came consisted of 69 persons, from the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol (MHP) and the Jackson Police Department (JPD). Suit was brought against all members of the detachment, the State of Mississippi, the City of Jackson, and numerous other persons not present at the scene but having official connections with the state, the city, MHP and JPD. 1 At trial a number of defendants who were members of the detachment, all of them nonsupervisory personnel, testified that they did not fire their weapons, and prior to submission of the case to the jury they were dropped as defendants for want of proof. The composition of the detachment was as follows:

-- Forty-three persons from the MHP. Of these, 38 (35 patrolmen and three supervisory officers) admitted firing their weapons and remained in the case as defendants. Also remaining as a defendant was MHP Inspector Lloyd Jones, who was the highest ranking MHP officer present but who did not fire. The remaining patrolmen testified they did not fire and were dropped as defendants.

-- Twenty-six persons from the JPD. Five admitted firing and remained as defendants. Also remaining as a defendant was JPD Lieutenant Warren Magee, who was present and in command of the entire detachment but did not fire. Other JPD officers present testified they did not fire and were dropped as defendants.

Also remaining in the case as submitted to the jury were the State of Mississippi, the City of Jackson, and Commissioner Crisler. 2

In the three-week jury trial the plaintiffs offered, in addition to their own testimony, that of numerous Jackson State students, several FBI representatives, officers in charge of training for the JPD, the MHP and the Mississippi National Guard, and an outside expert on police procedures for crowd control. Plaintiffs called as adverse witnesses all individual officers and supervisory officers present at the scene and Commissioner Crisler. Almost all of the testimony regarding the conduct of each individual officer at the time of the shooting, and all of the testimony as to who did and who did not join in the firing, came from each officer himself as an adverse witness. Thus all non-supervisory officers who remained in the case as defendants did so on the basis of each's admission from the witness stand that he fired. All officers who denied firing were dropped as defendants on the basis of their own testimony (except non-firing supervisory officers who were claimed to have failed to discharge supervisory duties).

At the close of the evidence plaintiffs moved for directed verdicts on the issue of liability, and the trial judge reserved decision. The jury returned a general verdict for all defendants. The District Judge then denied the directed verdict motions and motions for judgment n/o/v. In his accompanying bench opinion he stated that he considered the city and state to be immune from suit.

We have untangled as painstakingly as we are able the complex web of legal and factual issues. Having done so, we find no reversible error in the trial judge's rulings of law or in his submission of the isues to the jury, and we affirm.

Our inquiry into the facts and the law will follow this pattern:

A. The facts. B. The effect of the gunfire. C. Immunity from suit of the state and the city. D. Sources of liability. E. Liability of officers who fired. F. Liability of individuals on other grounds. G. Jury charges-- and some loose ends. H. Conclusion.


Because plaintiffs claim that the court erred in denying their motions for directed verdicts and judgment n/o/v, the facts must be set out in detail, with all reasonable inferences in favor of defendants.

1. The physical layout.

Jackson State College is a virtually all black four-year college with approximately 4,300 students, located in Jackson, Mississippi. The campus is bisected along its east-west line by Lynch Street, a major thoroughfare. Alexander Hall, the women's dormitory at which the shootings in issue occurred, is on the north side of Lynch Street. Most of it is pictured in the photograph PX 45.


Almost directly across from it and on the south side of Lynch Street is Roberts Dining Hall.

Alexander Hall houses between 900 and 1,000 female students. The front wings extend toward Lynch Street, and the center section, which consists generally of a first floor lobby area and dormitory rooms on the upper four floors, runs parallel to Lynch Street. The front wings, the sidewalk and the center section form a grassy courtyard. A four-foot chain link fence separates the sidewalk on Lynch Street from the courtyard.

PX 133 shows the west wing of Alexander Hall as seen from Lynch Street.


The wing is 48'2' high. The central column, enclosing a stairway, is made up of five metal panels, each coinciding with a floor of the dormitory. Each panel contains a window composed of two large panes and located at the landing between floors. There are two glass doors at the ground level of the stairwell.

2. The night of May 13.

On the evening of May 13, 1970, students of Jackson State began throwing bricks, rocks, and other objects at cars passing through the campus on Lynch Street. Windows and headlights were broken on some cars, and a traffic light was broken out with rocks. In response Jackson police barricaded Lynch Street at both ends of the campus. Students set fire to two garbage carts used to haul trash from campus facilities, and they also made an attempt to burn the Army ROTC building. A contingent from the JPD assisted by members of the MHP-- 62 men and seven supervisory officers altogether-- entered the campus to secure the ROTC building. The entire detachment was under the command of Lt. Magee of the JPD, and the highest ranking MHP patrolman present was Inspector Jones.

This group was subjected to some rock throwing and verbal abuse, and at least one patrolman was hit by a rock. Several of the officers heard occasional reports from small caliber weapons. The police found in automobiles and on persons in the area at least one high caliber military rifle and several small caliber sidearms. None of the officers felt that he had been fired upon, however, and none discharged a weapon. Ultimately they were successful in providing security for the ROTC building, and as the evening wore on the two trash cart fires died down and the crowds dispersed.

In a printed handbill distributed to the student body on the morning of May 14, the president of Jackson State described the events of the preceding night thusly:

On Yesterday evening, May 13, we had another what has become the annual riots at Jackson State College. This latest riot was perpetuated by a faceless, mindless mob of students and non-students bent on doing violence and destruction to the college and doing bodily harm to our own counselling personnel as well as to unsuspecting passersby. Considerable damage was done to the college property, mainly in the form of glass breakage. Two trailers used to haul garbage from dormitories and the dining hall were burned. Also a very determined attempt was made to incinerate Barracks 1-A . . ..

3. The official preparations.

The Mayor of Jackson had been oriented by the college president and, fearing the inadequacy of the JPD, had on May 13 requested assistance from the Governor of Mississippi. The Governor issued a proclamation invoking full police power on behalf of the Department of Public Safety, see Miss.Code Ann. 8082 (now Miss.Code 1972 Ann. 45-3-21), and issued executive orders mobilizing units of the Mississippi National Guard and directing the MHP to provide needed assistance to the JPD upon request by the city. On the morning of May 14 General Walter Johnson of the Mississippi National Guard conducted a meeting at the National Guard Armory in Jackson to coordinate plans for coping with the disorders at the college. Lt. Magee represented the JPD at this meeting; the MHP did not send a representative. The plan ultimately formulated called for 1,000 guardsmen equipped with armored personnel carriers and tear gas to stand ready to be committed at Lt. Magee's request. Selected guardsmen had orders to carry high caliber rifles with sniper scopes, but most were to carry unloaded shotguns, and on command th...

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