Southworth v. Jones, Civil Action No. 3:20-cv-55

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
Citation529 F.Supp.3d 454
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:20-cv-55
Parties Thomas SOUTHWORTH, Plaintiff, v. Officer Khaia JONES, Defendant.
Decision Date29 March 2021

529 F.Supp.3d 454

Thomas SOUTHWORTH, Plaintiff,
Officer Khaia JONES, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 3:20-cv-55

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division.

Signed March 29, 2021

529 F.Supp.3d 456

Andrew Lucchetti, Huyen Thanh Vu, Isaac Abraham McBeth, Jonathan Eric Halperin, Halperin Law Center LLC, Glen Allen, VA, for Plaintiff.

David P. Corrigan, Maurice Scott Fisher, Jr., Harman Claytor Corrigan & Wellman, Richmond, VA, for Defendant.


John A. Gibney, Jr., United States District Judge

Khaia Jones, a former police officer in Richmond City, shot Thomas Southworth

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in the elbow while arresting him. Jones sought to arrest Southworth for his suspected involvement in an unarmed robbery that occurred in neighboring Hanover County. During the arrest—which lasted just forty seconds—Southworth did not comply with Jones's orders to show his hands. Finally, Jones ordered Southworth to show his hands and get out of the car, difficult tasks to complete simultaneously. Southworth complied, but only partially; when he got out of the car, Jones could not see Southworth's left hand. Just as Southworth got both feet on the ground, Jones fired her weapon, hitting Southworth in the elbow.

Southworth asserts two claims against Jones: unreasonable seizure in violation of § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Count One) and state law battery (Count Two).

Jones moves for summary judgment as to both claims. (ECF No. 25.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny Jones's motion and allow both claims to proceed.


Police suspected Southworth of robbing a woman at a Walmart in Hanover County on March 12, 2018. Specifically, they suspected him of ripping the lunch box off the shoulder of a Walmart employee on her way to work. (ECF No. 34-4, at 25 :2–4.) Arising from these suspicions, Hanover County issued a felony warrant for Southworth's arrest.

On March 13, 2018, two Hanover deputy sheriffs—Douglas Kinder and Christopher Hatcher—came to Richmond to look for Southworth. The Hanover officers watched Southworth's sister's apartment and saw Southworth leave the apartment with his mother. The pair left in a white Chevy Impala; his mother drove, and Southworth rode in the passenger seat.

Kinder and Hatcher then called for assistance arresting Southworth. Richmond Police Department ("RPD") Officers Tristan Rossetti, Khaia Jones, Adam Hanson, and William McAuliffe responded to the call.2 The RPD officers knew that Southworth was suspected of committing strong-arm robbery3 by taking the lunch box of a woman outside Walmart.4 They had also

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received a "Suspect Fact Sheet" about Southworth from the Hanover officers that said: "Southworth has a criminal history to include burglary, grand larceny, vandalism, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, possession of marijuana, unlawful bodily injury, petit larceny, credit card fraud, and court violations." (ECF No. 26-9 ; accord ECF No. 26-7, at 33 :1–4.)

Officers Jones, Rosetti, and Hanson converged on the white Chevy Impala in the parking lot of the Food Lion on Forest Hill Drive. The officers surrounded the car with their guns drawn as their training dictated. Rossetti approached the car from the driver's side, where Southworth's mother sat. Jones and Hanson approached the car on the passenger's side, where Southworth sat.

Walking behind the Impala, Jones yelled to Southworth, "Let me see your hands!" She repeated her instruction again and again.5 In response, Southworth repeatedly said, "No," and shook his head. The body cameras show Jones screaming at Southworth, in increasingly frenetic excitement, punctuating her words with sundry versions of the verb "fuck." She shouted, "He's going in his pocket," several times. Rossetti then opened the driver's side door, and Jones ordered Southworth's mother out of the car. Ms. Southworth complied and pled with the officers not to shoot her son, assuring them that he did not have a gun. The officers continued to command Southworth to show his hands. Southworth continued to not comply. During this time, Southworth did not sit still within the car; he looked from side to side and moved within the cabin to some extent.6

Jones then ordered Southworth to get out of the car and said, "Let me see your hands! You will get shot!" Southworth, complying with Jones's directive to get out of the car, pushed his door open with his right hand and began to get out of the car. Jones could not see Southworth's left hand when he got out of the vehicle or when she shot him.7 As Southworth emerged from

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the car, Jones fired her gun, striking his elbow. At the time she shot him, Southworth did not face Jones directly; he stood at about a 45-degree angle to her.8

Southworth did not attempt to flee until after Jones shot him. He did not have a gun, and no one saw anything that looked like a gun. He did not have a gun-like bulge in his clothing. He did not say anything threatening to the officers. At worst, he just did not do what Jones wanted.


Southworth brings two claims against Jones. First, he says that Jones violated his Fourth Amendment rights when she shot him in the elbow during the traffic stop. Second, he says this shot amounted to a battery in violation of Virginia state law. Jones contests both claims. She claims (1) she reasonably used deadly force and (2) immunity protects her from both claims.

A. Factual Disputes

A number of issues of material fact remain in this case. First, the record presents an open question about what Jones knew about Southworth before the ill-fated encounter. From the testimony of Southworth's mother, a jury could infer that Jones knew that Southworth had simply stolen someone's lunch box. See supra n.4.

Second, Jones's statements on the body camera that Southworth was "going in his pockets" as he sat in his car may not have a factual basis. From the video of the incident, Jones stood a number of feet away from the car, while Southworth sat in the passenger seat. It is difficult to believe that she could see what he was doing with his hands in the car. See supra n.6.

Third, Jones claims that Southworth kept his left hand in his pocket as he got out of the car. Based on the body camera footage and Officer Hanson's testimony, however, a jury could find that Jones could not see Southworth's left hand when he got out of the car and, therefore, she did not know whether he reached into his pocket or just around his pants. See supra n.7.

As discussed below, what Jones knew and observed presents one of the critical issues in this case, and factual questions about her observations and knowledge remain. As it must at this stage of litigation, the Court resolves these disputes in Southworth's favor. Doing so compels the Court to conclude that when Jones shot Southworth,

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she violated both Virginia law and clearly established Fourth Amendment law, thereby precluding summary judgment.

B. Fourth Amendment10

The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. "[T]he Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures" governs Southworth's "claim of excessive force ... and is to be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment reasonableness standard" announced in Graham v. Connor , 490 U.S. 386, 394, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). Mazuz v. Maryland , 442 F.3d 217, 230 (4th Cir. 2006), abrogated on other grounds by Pearson v. Callahan , 555 U.S. 223, 235, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).

For an officer to reasonably use deadly force, the officer must have "probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others." Tennessee v. Garner , 471 U.S. 1, 3, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985). "The officer's actions do not amount to excessive force if they ‘are "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting [her] ....’ " Smith v. Ray , 781 F.3d 95, 101 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Graham , 490 U.S. at 397, 109 S.Ct. 1865 ). When considering the "facts and circumstances of each ... case," courts pay particular attention to the Graham factors: "the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight." Id. (quoting Graham , 490 U.S. at 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865 ).

Jones says it was objectively reasonable for her to conclude that Southworth posed a "significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others," Garner , 471 U.S. at 3, 105 S.Ct. 1694, when he got out of the car because she reasonably believed he had and reached for a weapon. She argues that she reasonably believed Southworth had and...

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