Federal Court: No Immunity from Civil Lawsuit for Kansas Sheriff

May 26, 2020

A Kansas sheriff is not entitled to immunity from a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed black man who was shot in the back following a police chase, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Harvey County Sheriff Chad Gay is county official when performing law enforcement functions. Unlike a state official, the sheriff is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity when sued for damages in his official capacity, the court said.

The decision comes in the civil lawsuit filed by the family of Matthew Holmes, a 24-year-old black man with schizophrenia, who died after McPherson County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Somers, a white man, shot him in the back during an arrest in August 2017. The incident began when police suspected Holmes in a car burglary and he led them on a vehicle chase.

No criminal charges were brought against any officers.

Holmes’ mother, Wendy Couser, sued the officers and law enforcement agencies involved, alleging her son was beaten by officers while he lay dying from a gunshot wound. The lawsuit also contends supervisors did not adequately train officers on use of force and failed to discipline them.

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